Archive for October, 2010

Page 45 Reviews October 2010 week four

Saturday, October 30th, 2010

Vertigo Resurrected #1 (£5-99, Vertigo) by Warren Ellis, Brian Bolland, Brian Azzarello, Grant Morrison, Garth Ennis, Steven T. Seagle, Peter Milligan, Bill Willingham, Bruce Jones & Phil Jimenez, Andy Lanning, Brian Bolland, Essad Ribic, Frank Quitely, Jim Lee, Tim Sale, Eduardo Risso, Pamela Rambo, Berni Wrightson.

Ho, yes! They better keep this one in print.

The main but by no means only attraction here is the first publication – finally after all these years on the censor’s spike – of Warren Ellis & Phil Jimenez’s ‘Shoot’, the HELLBLAZER story tackling child-on-child gun crime. Written and drawn before whichever the massacre was back then, it was deemed too topical to print which is precisely why it should have been printed in the first place. That, and it’s one of the finest John Constantine appearances ever.

A woman is reviewing video tapes of school shootings, in order to address a Senate Committee with her judgement on why they are happening but she just can’t see it, and keeps going back to the audio tape on which Reverend Jim Jones persuades his congregation, all nine hundred and fourteen men, women and children, to commit mass suicide.

“…It’s deciding what to blame, you know? Blame the parents for keeping a gun in the house? Not without blaming the constitution and pulling the NRA’s chain.”
“The movies, the video games, the comicbooks…”
“More killers fixate and draw inspiration from the Bible than any other piece of culture.”
“So if I did a Nintendo thing called “Flying Chainsaw Jesus” I’d be rich?”
“Ew. And you’ve got kids.”
“And that’s how I oughta know. You oughta see the little bastards playing their video games. Eyes bright, teeth bared, like wolves tearing up a sheep.”
“It’s not the games that do it, Brian.”

No, it’s not. Nor, can I assure you, does it have anything hocus pocus to do with our John or anyone else. That would have made this an awful Constantine story. The only uncanny thing about John’s involvement is that he’s there at the site of every recent child-child slaying, but he’s only there to see for himself why they’re doing it as a favour to a friend whose own boy got blown away, and I think John and Warren are both absolutely on the nail. Jimenez and Lanning own this story as much as Ellis: without his pitch-perfect expressions, particularly the last one, it couldn’t have worked. Now please see Andrew Vachss’ HEART TRANSPLANT if you want to learn the truth about early self-esteem and bullying.

The rest of the 100-page anthology is made up of reprints from obscure series like STRANGE ADVENTURES, WEIRD WAR TALES, HEARTTHROBS and FLINCH. Morrison and Quitely’s Action Man at war story sees the fuzzy-topped hero recuperating at a hospital where he falls in love with Barbie. But then Barbie’s taken away and when he tells his fellow soldiers they’re next, the just won’t listen. Garth Ennis and Jim Lee deliver a nasty little number set in an off-roader during a fishing trip to Scotland as four soldiers swap photos of their time during Desert Storm. Three of them are in for a revelation. But amongst all the quality here Peter Milligan and Eduardo Risso’s ‘The Death Of A Romantic’ takes the biscuit for sheer inventiveness. A woman whose job is to research the Romantics and rescue writers from obscurity is ditched by her boyfriend, losing every last shred of dignity by begging him to stay. Her friends say they always knew he was a rotter. But as she begins investigating a seemingly unpromising poet called Adrian Fury who died in 1829 aged twenty-five she discovers he really was a romantic and died a virgin on account of idolising women. Gradually as she uncovers more of the mysterious man’s history she starts falling in love with him and talks to her friends as if they were really dating. Ah, but just you wait… Again, nothing supernatural about it all, I promise you. But she’ll handle being disappointment in love by the unfairer sex much, much better this time round.

X’ed Out h/c (£14-99, Jonathan Cape) by Charles Burns.

“I’m sorry… I really am. I’m sorry things didn’t work out.”

This is the sort of work that terrifies me.

It’s the nightmare scenario of things being beyond your control: wandering around in your pyjamas, no money to pay for a meal you’ve just eaten, not knowing where you are or where to go and being alone in the company of deeply unsettling strangers. And that’s just the nightmare, the images, thoughts and scenarios that Doug can’t shut out in spite of his diminishing number of pills: embryos in eggs, putrescent meat riddled with giant, outraged maggots plucked then gobbled by a cowled figure whose nose appears eaten with syphilis; terrified creatures clinging to driftwood as they’re carried helplessly downstream by the rapids. Yes, that’s just the nightmare. It seems Doug’s real life took a turn for the worse as well.

The book begins with Doug, his features simplified to a Tintin cartoon with two crossed plasters stuck to his temple, waking up in bed not knowing where he is. There’s a hole in the far brick wall his black cat climbs through into the darkness beyond. He’s sure his cat is supposed to be dead. Doug dons a dressing gown and follows…

When Doug wakes up in bed, he hasn’t a clue where he is. His temples have been shaved, giving him the look of a dark-haired Tintin, and a bandage is taped to one side of his skull. Evidence lies on the covers: a basic tape recorder, a graphic novel, a photograph of a girl holding a giant heart to her naked breasts. There’s a flick-knife embedded in the heart. The sound of the door buzzer terrifies him. Why? Some of the answers to this series of puzzles – why he perceives himself to look like Tintin in his dream, who the girl in the photograph is, where the hole in the wall came from and why that buzzer might terrify him – are slowly revealed by Doug’s memory. But not where the bandage came from, not yet, though one can easily infer.

This, you should be warned before you pick the book up, is but the first instalment of a far longer work, brought out French-stylee in hardcover episodes. The production values are beautiful, unusually for Burns it’s in colour, and although he’s breaking new personal ground, readers of BLACK HOLE will still be in familiar territory. There are disaffected teens indulging in drugs, alcohol and extreme art projects involving the body; violence threatens to break in from outside, and raging hormones may well prove the source of much trouble. Oh yes, holes. There are lots and lots of holes.


Heart Transplant h/c (£18-99, Dark Horse) by Andrew Vachss, Zak Mucha & Frank Caruso.

Bullying explored in fiction by Vachss then explained in reality by Mucha.

If I had only known as a child what I’ve just learned today then my early teens would have been a whole lot smoother; I have never read anything in my life that has made so much sense as Mucha’s detailed essay in the back.

I don’t have kids, though obviously I know a fair few: I have some seriously cool second cousins and I work behind a till in what I consider a warm and friendly environment. You get to know people if you can listen long enough. So I’m buying this for a fair few as Christmas presents for parents and teens, and a copy for myself so that if any parents or teenagers want to borrow it from me, for free, all you have to do is ask. I’ll keep a list of who wants it next and then let you know when it’s back.

Rarely have I been so surprised by a work of fiction, which I could have sworn was heading straight into the territory of sexual abuse, yet nothing could have been further from reality. But then rarely does reality offer you true altruism which is what Pop displays here: altruism, a sense of honour and another chance to get it right.

Young Sean lived with his mother and a succession of unofficial step-fathers: scroungers and parasites his mother took in because having someone younger and good-looking around fulfilled her self-esteem issues. She didn’t care if they were piss-head thugs towards Sean – there was too much TV to watch. So no, “brought up by” is not a description I’d use. The last boyfriend was Brian who tried to get Sean to burgle houses for him because he was too much of a coward to do it himself. Sean refused and took the consequent beating. But Brian was the last one because Sean came home to find them both dead.

“The cops said nobody had heard the shots, nobody had seen anything. It was like Nobody came in there and killed them.”

This is where, a hair’s breath away from being shoved into the system, Brian’s father comes in. Through the front door. It’s also where I thought the sexual abuse was going to come in for Pop urges Sean to acknowledge him as his grandfather, and does so under his breath. He spirits him away under the watch of the Welfare lady who’s simply relieved at fewer forms to fill in. Nor is he some kindly, sentimental old man: he acknowledges his son was both a dosser and tosser, and a total waste of bullying space. He’s stern, he’s not into anything post-1950, but he has no pretences at being a saint or a cook or a particularly good father, nor does he make emotional demands on Sean. Instead, over the months, he earns Sean’s respect with his straightforward candour and respect for Sean’s personal privacy. It’s the first time the boy’s ever had a bedroom. Their first Christmas is interesting.

Make no mistake, though, this is no happy ending, it’s just the beginning for the bullying comes next, at school. And it’s funny how everyone else just stands round and laughs if it’s physical, or sniggers if it’s verbal. They’re relieved it’s not them so condone it instead with their complicity, signalling approval to solicit the bully’s own approbation. Keep that ego tank full and maybe its bottomless demand won’t make you the next target.

“It didn’t hurt me,” I said.
“Yeah, it did.”
“It didn’t, Pop. I didn’t cry or –”
“I’m not talking about you taking a beating, son. No man goes through life without catching a few of those. But a beating ain’t the same things as being made dirt of. Being humiliated. So don’t be telling me it didn’t hurt you, ’cause it hurts me. Inside me, it hurts. So I know it hurts you, too. I even know where it hurts.”

Yes, bullies require – nay, demand – an audience; otherwise the public humiliation inflicted in order to increase their hegemony is not complete. And this is where both Vachss and Mucha have it so right: the psychology of it all. The difference between a fighter and a bully is that a bully doesn’t expect his actions to cost him anything. She or he is never stood up to by their victims or by others in their place, so it costs them nothing.

“Once he finds out it’s gonna cost him something, he’s going to do his shopping someplace else.”

Which sounds a little harsh until you get to the part of standing up for others. Think what would happen if bullies were actually social pariahs rather than almost universally appeased, and chased off the prairie by all.

Pop turns out to be quite ingenious, by the way, his only deception being one that stands Sean in good public (but more importantly personal, self-esteem) stead at the expense of his own reputation. Had Sean known the truth, it would have secured Pop in his affections forever, but some positive actions and their desired effects are more important than being rewarded for them. I think that’s the definition of altruism.

And so it is that we come to Zak Mucha’s contribution where he punctures the prevalent notion that bullies have low self-esteem. No. They have a disproportionately high opinion of themselves and little regard for others: their desire for self-gratification comes well above any pain they inflict on others. And the victims of emotional abuse, made to feel as if they’re in the wrong for being bullied. “Must be something wrong with me if I’m being picked on” – coming to a cyberspace near you! Adjusting your own behaviour to accommodate or mollify the bullies.

“That perceived lack of worth is evidenced in the victim’s dismissal of his pain: the victim learns to not trust his own feelings. He ignores his own flushes of rage and shamefully swallows words he wished could be spoken. Never feeling safe from criticism or safe to tell the truth, the victim remains vigilant for the slightest sign of disapproval, waiting for the whisper of collusion among peers…”

Basically, it erodes individuality. Enforces conformity to the bullies’ point of view.

“None of this is done in the light of day. The injuries start off as testing measures, small slights, ignored phone calls, text messages, and blog entries. The attacks are sweet-voiced whispers in a world where a “friend” qualifies with one mouse-click and an attack spreads like a virus through an entire social network, becoming both spectator sport and Internet mob action.
“If the victim defends herself or “confronts” the aggressor, the recriminations being: “Well, it’s not like she hit you,” “Oh, you’re too emotional,” “You shouldn’t feel like that,” or “That’s not what I meant.” This is a vital component of the culturally acceptable bullying: the victim is at fault for misunderstanding the acts of the aggressor.
“The victim feels guilty for making the aggressor angry, even guiltier for feeling his own anger. The victim dislikes himself for being in pain, then uses that pain as proof he is inadequate. The injury, he is told, consists of “only words”.”

Tip of the analytical iceberg, I swear. I finally understood the term passive-aggressive too and, in this context, narcissism.

The art puts me in mind of Ashley Wood. It provides atmosphere more than anything else because the illustrations unfortunately aren’t integrated with the words, but you can’t always have everything.

Andrew Vachss is a child abuse lawyer acclaimed for his writing all over the place including here (see HARD LOOKS in particular; no review, sorry, read it twenty years ago); Zak Mucha, LCSW, is the supervisor of an Assertive Community Treatment programme, providing services to persons suffering severe psychiatric and substance-abuse disorders in Chicago.


Absolute Promethea book 2 of 3 slipcased h/c (75-00, Wildstorm/DC) by Alan Moore & JH Williams III.

One of my favourite three Alan Moore projects of all time (FROM HELL and VOICE OF THE FIRE, since you ask), and one of the rare fictions whose metaphysics had me glued to the page thanks in no small part to JH Williams III. It’s one long tribute to the nature, power and achievements of the human imagination. For more on the series, please see the relevant softcover reviews.

This the second of three ABSOLUTE editions, this time rounded off with a wealth of extra material in the form of preparatory work annotated by the artist focussing on – but not limited to – the covers. There are alternate versions, pencil versions and black and white inked versions, particularly useful if you’ve trying to identify the ghost people, negative white on blue, on the cover to the tenth issue. There’s promotional artwork, unused designs, and the COVERS BOOK page of story that only ever saw print previously when released with the limited poster edition to thirty-second issue.


Arthur Rackham: A Life With Illustration h/c (£25-00, Pavilion) by James Hamilton & Arthur Rackham.

Nearly two hundred pages of biography illustrated throughout with Rackham’s distinctive, early 20th Century pen, ink and watercolour fantasies that surely inspired Charles Vess to such great heights. Mermaids, sea creatures, goblins, dragons and valkyries; Alice In Wonderland (if I was going to relinquish Tenniel for anyone it would be Rackham), Siegfried And The Twilight Of The Gods, Peter Pan, the Stories Of King Arthur, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, A Christmas Carol, The Tempest etc: those are the sort of illustrations you’ll probably be most familiar with, but I was taken aback by the pure watercolour pastorals like Landscape With Stream And Cows, so much more tranquil and delicate than Cuyp’s. Here’s the biographer James Hamilton:

“In this brief address to his author colleagues – to him partners, not masters – Rackham underlines points that concerned him throughout his career, that illustration was literally as its name described, the adding of lustre, of light, to a text, a means of giving it a new dimension, a kind of road sign to help the reader around the ‘environment of the stories’.”

A perfect description, that, of J.H. Williams III’s contribution of Alan Moore’s PROMETHEA.

In addition to discussing the life and works of Arthur Rackham, the book reprints excerpts from his letters and speeches he made along with contemporary reviews from peers and journalists alike. Time is also set aside for technical explanations like the three-colour printing process, an economic assessment of how Rackham actually earned his living, a timeline and family tree. But mostly you’ll just be swooning, won’t you?


American Vampire vol 1 h/c (£18-99, Vertigo/DC) by Scott Snyder, Stephen King & Rafael Albuquerque.

Mein Gotte, I’m so hungry… Let’s get someone to eat!”

The American vampire is a rather different beast from the pretty young posers the genre’s been reduced to, and so is the cracking first book here. It’s horror novelist Stephen King’s first original work for comics and he is ridiculously modest and self-deprecating during the introduction in which he places all credit at the feet of Scott Snyder, the series creator and author of the first half of each chapter set in July 1925 on the cusp of the advent of talkies. Here two young friends, Pearl and Hattie, are playing extras on a Hollywood film set and receive their instructions:

“Okay, extras! Into character! Action in 5! And remember — we want terror!”
“Terror, take nine. Say something scary, will you?”
“The rent’s due tomorrow.”

The rent’s for their women-only boarding house where, for the last three days, a “creepy cowboy man” has been accosting them from his chair across the communal swimming pool. He’s handsome as hell but ragged round the edges and more than a little cocky. Back on set Pearl finds herself in the right place at the right time to act as a stand-in with leading actor Chase Hamilton which leads both ladies to be invited to a swank do being hosted by movie producer B. D. Bloch. It’s a party which “creepy cowboy man”, still there on his chair and strangely acquainted with B.D. Bloch, nonchalantly warns them away from. A few pages later they wish they had listened, and you’re going to want to turn back to the grimmest of opening pages set later that night. If there’s an element there you still can’t decipher then just hold your horses: Snyder’s got a few slights of hand up his sleeve.

Snyder’s economy is admirable, covering a great deal of contemporary territory in a tiny amount of time which in turn keeps the story rolling at an entertaining rate, whilst Albuquerque’s art evokes the period with grace and charm before the horror kicks in, at which point he lips rip with an almighty frenzy of fangs, claws and in two notably instances, one well aimed stiletto and a cactus. He shifts styles noticeably for Stephen King’s half, a western set forty-five years earlier in Colorado where a by-now familiar young man revealed to be Skinner Sweet is being escorted by train with an armed guard. It’s not for his protection. He is, after all, a notorious bank-robber ruthless enough to shoot a three-year-old child without compunction. He’s also intimidatingly self-confident. Turns out he has good reason to be, as Special Agent Jim Book and his Mexican Deputy Felix Camillo are about to find out to their cost. But if Sweet was difficult enough to contain before, one fatal error on the part of another member of the party, a bald business man with a low tolerance to daylight, is going to kick into gear over four decades of bloody miscalculations which few will survive.

“Time to meet my maker…”

Hindsight is going to play a big part in your enjoyment of this series, and paying attention here has its rewards. That both time periods aren’t readily associated with or overpopulated by vampires is refreshing, as are the two different forms they take. Stephen King doesn’t need to write comics – I don’t think he’ll ever be short of a dollar – so his enthusiasm to be a part of this project is quite the endorsement to which I can only add my own. It’s a good couple of decades since I enjoyed vampires outside of the re-release of BLOOD & WATER, but I’ve been bitten once more.

“Everything tastes better when you’re dead. Who knew?”


Cyanide & Happiness vol 2: Ice Cream & Sadness h/c (£10-00, HarperCollins) by Kris, Rob, Matt & Dave.

Dominique excelled herself in choosing the interior art to go with volume one online: two of my favourites there straightaway.

Heads above almost every other online webstrip, these feature fourth-wall trickery, immaculate timing and the worst medical practitioner in the world.

“Just point to where it hurts.”
“Well, it hurts here… ow! here… ow! and here… ow!”
“You have a broken finger.”
[Patient leaves]
“God, you are SO blonde.”


Dragon Puncher h/c (£7-50, Top Shelf) by James Kochalka.

Full-colour fantasy rampage starring Eli Kochalka (James’ son) as Spoony-e and Spandy (James’ cat) as Dragon Puncher battling James himself (James) as the dragon. The backgrounds are photographs of a verdant, copse-lined pasture upon which James has drawn the cartoon monkey Spoony-e, the cartoon robot Dragon Puncher and the cartoon dragon Dragon. He’s then inserted balaclava photos of the actors’ faces. Eli can’t act, being aged 3, Spandy refuses to act (two expressions, tops) so James makes up for it in spades.

Just the sort of delightful playschool whimsy that would be sweet selotaped to any family refrigerator, but would you actually charge your friends to read it?

Oh, you would.

Well, day-care ain’t cheap.

The Saga Of Rex (£13-50, Image) by Michael Gagné.

Love, life and transmogrification. Birth, death and resurrection. Loneliness, resilience, trials and (you thought I was going to type ‘tribulations’ next) the worshipping of prophetic idols. From the creator of PARABLES and culled from the pages of FLIGHT, this full-colour fantasy of a fox cub swept up into the cosmos and thence to strange lands, soon ditches the early sentences to go wordless. Thankfully. They’ll only puzzle a child who would otherwise love this. It’s perfectly, genuinely sweet – not half as alarming as PARABLES – but fails to signify a tenth of what Drooker or Woodring impart on a single page. That doesn’t necessarily matter, I’m just saying…

Absolute All Star Superman (£75-00, DC) by Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely ~

Both volumes collected together in DC’s extra-large slipcased hardcover format with sketches etc..

Hands up how many of you have actually read a Superman comic? I know when I did read one when I much younger, the awful DEATH OF SUPERMAN, I was aghast and utterly confused. Having grown up loving the films, I just could not recognise the mindless caped atrocity fighting Doomsday for what seemed like ever. Who was this guy? Where was the soul of the icon I knew?

Because although Superman was created for comics, he became an icon through other media. A phenomenon which spread through radio, cinema serials and later TV and film, that’s why everyone knows the character, the “S”, why people refer to their weaknesses as Kryptonite rather than Achilles Heel, and why bald men are inherently evil geniuses. (Sorry, Stephen, but it’s true!)

But how many of you have read the comics? And to be honest why would you? Superman and his real power have been diluted with each incarnation until he was nothing more than a wholesome mascot for the American way. To the cynical he is a naive, empty character because of this, and attempts in comics to balance that perception with numerous gritty storylines over the years have only alienated and/or confused potential fans. It’s a crisis of identity for a seventy-one-year-old character, clearly suffering from some form of dementia, a parallel Steven T. Seagle makes in his book IT’S A BIRD…, one of a very few other Superman books we recommend.

Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely have unequivocally grasped the essence of Superman, what makes him work, and his real power: to inspire. Grant’s love for the character is utterly apparent to the point where it’s obvious he has managed to restrain himself just enough to deliver a story that has its moments of genius bordering on mad but never loses its focus. Balancing a character whom more often fights with his wit and intelligence than his fists, Grant lets Superman reflect humanity with an outsider’s eye. Being the ultimate immigrant aspiring to better understand his adoptive home, faults and all, while his own failings become increasingly pertinent now that his life is drawing to an untimely end.

For after being exposed to a lethal overdose of solar rays in volume one, Superman has gained awesome and unpredictable new powers. Unfortunately the same overdose placed too much strain upon his body’s ability to process the yellow sunlight, giving him scant months to live. Having accomplished seven of the twelve labours he was retro-prophesised to complete, Superman tries to find a way to save himself, but not before escaping from Bizarro Earth, coping with being replaced by some unexpected survivors from Krypton, growing a parallel dimension, and seeing Lex Luthor to the electric chair. All of which sounds rather ambiguous and standard silly I grant you, but I promise it comes together in the most amazing way. Besides that’s not what makes this series so perfect. It’s the little moments like when Superman prevents the suicide of a girl. After he inadvertently prevents her doctor from reaching her in time and talk her down, he steps in. There’s no fall or dramatic swooping in to catch her in the nick of time, because that would still be too late. Superman just does what anyone would do, and helps her find strength.


Spider-Man: Grim Hunt h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Fred Van Lente, Phil Jimenez, Joe Kelly, Zeb Wells, J.M. DeMatteis & Phillipe Briones, Phil Jimenez, Michael Lark, Marco Checchetto, Stefano Gaudiano, Max Fiumara.

Michael Lark: everything he touches is made more compelling for his presence. Brubaker and Rucka benefited enormously for his work on GOTHAM CENTRAL, and so does Joe Kelly here.

The main meat of this book is by Kelly and Lark, the culmination of a long game played over the last year with the help of her daughter Ana by Sasha Kraven, wife of the deceased Kraven The Hunter. THE GAUNTLET was her doing: foe after Spider-foe nudged in Spider-Man’s direction, knocking the stuffing out of Peter so softening him up for this. With the Chameleon at their side they’ve already captured the precognitive Madame Web and young Mattie Franklin, and now they’re after the other spiders: Arachne, clone Kaine, Arana and, of course, Spider-Man himself. They’re quite literally out for his blood in order to resurrect Kraven Sr., but given that the Russian hunter shot himself in the head with a gun, what are the chances that he actually wants to come back?

The early chaos and consequent confusion is very well played, after which the roles are then neatly reversed. Plenty of twists in store. There’ll be more than one resurrection, several severances, and you know the old cliché which Marvel keep trotting out so irritatingly often that you no longer believe a word one of their hype-monkeys says: that “Nothing will be the same again”? Well I can’t recall the last time that so much did change in a single storyline. Not in Peter’s personal life, but right across his fellow spiders’.

Lark does his best to keep it moody and he would have succeeded, but through no fault of his own Marvel editorial has, not for the first time recently, made the insane decision of diluting the power of this climax by interspersing each chapter here with a dozen or so pages each of extraneous flashback by J.M. DeMatteis and Max Fiumara. It makes for a much longer read but a far less satisfying one and I humbly suggest you exercise some editorial control of your own and skip those chapters then, if you really want to, go back and read them later. Pretend they’re at the back of the book as they should have been.

Daredevil: Vision Quest h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by David Mack.

From the creator of KABUKI, the bits that got in the way of Bendis’ run. Glorious art, Echo returns, and I found it to be utter twaddle – see title. On the other hand Tom, who is more more patient than I may reappraise it because he’s definitely got the Mack Factor in his bloodstream. Self-contained Native American escapade.


Hack/Slash Omnibus vol 1 (£22-50, Image) by Tim Seeley & many.

16-year-old Cassie was forced to kill her mother, the undead murderer known as the Lunch Lady, apparently.

“Now Cassie and her monstrous partner Vlad travel the country, hunting down and killing other slashers before they can leave a trail of blood and terror.”

Keeps her off the streets, I guess. Errr…

This is the first batch originally published by another of the those publishers we largely ignore. I’m not about to read this on your behalf, I’m just happy to cater for a demand which baffles me.

Maiden Rose vol 2 (£9-99, June) by Fusanosuke Inariya.

“And suddenly all my bandages fell off! But I’m telling you the plot…”

Dear, dear Kenny Everett.

“When a mysterious train charts a path through the demilitarised (and allegedly tainted) No-Man’s Land, Taki must act quickly in order to prevent its passage into his domain. But will he protect his own boundaries from the brute advances of Claus… or is he prepared to welcome a forceful invasion?”

Dear god, the publisher’s channelling me! (Madam.)


Also arrived:

(Use our search engine – reviews may still follow for some!)

Make Me A Woman h/c (£18-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Vanessa Davis
Prison Pit Book 2 (£9-99, Fantagraphics) by Johnny Ryan
Hack/Slash Omnibus vol 1 (£22-50, Image) by Tim Seeley & Stefano Caselli, Federica Manfredi, Aadi Salman, Dave Crosland, Mark Englert, Nate Bellegarde, Andy Kuhn, Joe Largent, Sean Dove, Skottie Young, Mike Norton, Josh Medors, Mike O’ Sullivan, Matt Merhoff
Farscape: Scorpius vol 1: Let Sleeping Dogs Lie s/c (£7-50, Boom!) by Rockne S. O’Bannon, David Alan Mack & Mike Ruiz
Hatter M vol 3: The Nature Of Wonder h/c (£18-99, AP) by Frank Beddor, Liz Cavalier & Sami Makkonen
Ultimate Iron Man: Armour Wars s/c (£10-99, Marvel) by Warren Ellis & Steve Kurth
Punisher Noir s/c (£10-99, Marvel) by Frank Tieri & Paul Azaceta
Marvel Adventures: Spider-Man: Amazing (£7-50, Marvel) by Paul Tobin & Matteo Lolli, Scott Koblish
Star Wars: The Clone Wars vol 1: Slaves Of The Republic (£9-99, Drk Horse) by Henry Gilroy & Scott Hepburn, Ramon K. Perez, Lucas Marangon
Locke & Key vol 2: Head Games s/c (£14-99, IDW) by Joe Hill & Gabriel Rodriguez
Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? vol 3 h/c (£18-99, Boom!) by Philip K. Dick & Tony Parker
The Savage Sword Of Conan vol 8 (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Michael Fleisher & Gil Kane, John Buscema, Alfredo Alcala
Dark Tower vol 2: The Long Road Home s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Peter David, Stephen King, Peter David, Robin Furth & Richard Isanove, Jae Lee.
Black Widow: Deadly Origin s/c (£10-99, Marvel) by Paul Cornell & Tom Raney, John Paul Leon
Irredeemable vol 4 (£12-99, Boom!) by Mark Waid & Diego Barreto, Paul Azaceta, Emma Rios, Howard Chaykin
Conan vol 9: Free Companions (£13-50, Dark Horse) by Timothy Truman & Joe Kubert, Tomas Giorello 
Transformers: Prime (£7-50, IDW) by Mike Johnson & various
Moomins: Moominmamma’s Book Of Thoughts (£5-99, Self Made Hero) by Sami Malila & Tove Jansson
Moomins: Snufkin’s Book Of Thoughts (£5-99, Self Made Hero) by Sami Malila & Tove Jansson
Moomins: Moomintroll’s Book Of Thoughts (£5-99, Self Made Hero) by Sami Malila & Tove Jansson
Amory Wars, vol 3: In Keeping Secrets Of Silent Earth (£10-00, Boom!) by Claudio Sanchez, Peter David & Chris Burnham
Darkstalkers / Red Earth: Maleficarum (£9-99, Udon) by Mami Itou
Marvel Zombies vol 5 h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Fred Van Lente & Kano, Michael W. Kaluta, Felix Ruiz, Fernando Blanco, Frank Brunner
Shuddertown h/c (£14-99, Image) by Nick Spencer & Adam Geen
Astro City: Dark Ages Book 2 h/c (£22-50, Wildstorm) by Kurt Busiek & Brent Anderson
Hulk vol 6: World War Hulks h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Jeph Loeb & Ed McGuinness
Final Crisis: Legion Of 3 Worlds s/c (£10-99, Marvel) by Geoff Johns & George Perez
Victorian Undead: Sherlock Holmes vs. Zombies (£13-50, Wildstorm) by Ian Edginton & David Fabbri
Hellblazer: India (£10-99, Vertigo) by Peter Milligan & Giuseppe Camuncoli, Simon Bisley
Hulk vol 5: Fall Of The Hulks s/c (£10-99, Marvel) by Jeph Loeb & Ed McGuiness, John Romita Jr.
Cardcaptor Sakura Book 1 (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Clamp
Spider-Man: The Gauntlet vol 3: Vulture & Morbius s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Fred Van Lente, Mark Waid, Joe Kelly, Tom Peyer, Greg Weisman & Joe Quinones, Luke Ross, Max Fiumara, Paul Azaceta, Javier Rodriguez, Francis Portela
Predators (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Marc Andreyko, David Lapham, Paul Tobin & Guilherme Balbi, Victor Drujiniu, Gabriel Guzman, Allan Jefferson
The Lightning Thief (£7-50, Hyperion) by Rick Riordan, Robert Venditti & Attila Futaki
Vern and Lettuce (£9-99, DFC) by Sarah McIntyre
Dracula h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Bram Stoker, Roy Thomas & Dick Goirdano
Wolverine Weapon X vol 3: Tomorrow Dies Today h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Ron Garney, Davide Gianfelice, Esad Ribic
Deadpool Corps vol 1: Pool-Pocalypse Now h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Victor Gischler & Rob Liefeld, Marat Mychaels 
Sandman vol 2: The Doll’s House (New Ed’n) (£14-99, Vertigo) by Neil Gaiman & Malcolm Jones III, Mike Dringenberg, Michael Zulli
Sandman vol 3: Dream Country (New Ed’n) (£14-99, Vertigo) by Neil Gaiman & Malcolm Jones III, Charles Vess, Steve Erickson, Colleen Doran, Kelley Jones
Essential Ghost Rider vol 4 (£14-99, Marvel) by Michael Fleisher, J.M. DeMatteis, Roger Stern, Tom DeFalco, Peter B. Gillis & Tom Sutton, Don Perlin, Dave Simons, Bob Budiansky, Luke McDonnell
Wait, You’re Not A Centaur (£12-99) by Nathaniel Drake Denver
X-Factor vol 9: Invisible Woman Has Vanished s/c (£10-99, Marvel) by Peter David & Bing Cansino, Valentine De Landro
Stew Brew #3 (£2-99) by Kelly Froh, Max Clotfelter
Strange Growths #15 (£2-99) by Jenny Zervakis
You Don’t Get There From Here #13 (£2-99) by Carrie McNinch
You Don’t Get There From Here #14 (£2-99) by Carrie McNinch
You Don’t Get There From Here Goes To Oaxaca (£2-99) by Carrie McNinch
Deadpool vol 5: What Happened In Vegas h/s (£14-99, Marvel) by Daniel Way & Carlo Barberi
Wonder Woman: Contagion (£10-99, DC) by Gail Simone & Nicola Scott, Aaron Lopresti, Chris Batista, Fernando Dagnino, Travis Moore

King-Cat T-Shirt – S (£18-99)
King-Cat T-Shirt – M (£18-99)
King-Cat T-Shirt – L (£18-99)
King-Cat Badge (£1-00)
Beanworld T-Shirt – M (£18-99)
Beanworld T-Shirt – L (£18-99)
Beanworld T-Shirt – XL (£18-99)
Beanworld T-Shirt – XXL (£18-99)
Fear Of Song CD (£13-99) by Zak Sally

Gantz vol 13 (£9-99, Dark Horse) by Hiroya Oku
Slam Dunk vol 12 (£7-50, Viz) by Takehiko Inoue
Hyde & Closer vol 2 (£7-50, Viz) by Haro Aso
Cat Paradise vol 5 (£8-50, Yen) by Yuji Iwahara
Cross Game vol 1 VIZBIG Edition (£14-99, Viz) by Mitsuru Adachi
Strawberry 100% vol 14 (£7-50, Viz) by Mizuki Kawashita
Bunny Drop vol 2 (£7-99, Yen) by Yumi Unita
Chobits Book 2 (£18-99, Dark Horse) by Clamp
Kobato vol 3 (£7-99, Yen) by Clamp
7 Billion Needles vol 1 (£8-50, Vertical) by Nobuaki Tadano
Fairy Tail vol 12 (£8-50, Del Rey) by Hiro Mashima
Naoki Urasawa’s 20th Century Boys vol 11 (£9-99, Viz) by Naoki Urasawa
One Piece vol 55 (£7-50, Viz) by Eiichiro Oda
Bobobo-Bo Bo-Bobo vol 5 (£7-50, Viz) by Yoshio Sawai
Naruto vol 49 (£7-50, Viz) by Masashi Kishimoto
Chi’s Sweet Home vol 3 (£10-50, Vertical) by Konami Kanata
Alice The 101st vol 2 (£9-99, Doki Doki) by Chigusa Kawai
Kingyo Used Books vol 2 (£9-99, Viz) by Seimu Yoshizaki
Vampire Knight Official Fanbook (£10-99, Viz) by Matsuri Hino
March Story vol 1 (£9-99, Viz) by Kim Yang

Page 45 Reviews October 2010 week three

Saturday, October 30th, 2010

Picture This h/c (£22-50, Drawn & Quarterly) by Lynda Barry.

A second book of love, handcraft and creativity from one of the most individualistic voices in comics designed to encourage and inspire your own. Like WHAT IT IS, it cannot fail to succeed, for it’s in Lynda’s nature to nurture.

Were you encouraged when young, or did you have the imaginative stuffing knocked out of you? Sometimes it seems to me that the greatest lesson we can learn from our parents is to pay close attention then remember to behave in exactly the opposite fashion; this early exchange between Lynda and her mother over a magazine cover she’s embellished pretty much says it all:

“You ruined this!”
“It was in the garbage, so I thought..”
“You thought! You call this thinking?”
“But you threw it away…”
When I put something in the garbage I want it to stay there! Do not ruin the garbage!”

Linda’s learned that lesson well and put it into pitch-perfect practice here lest you too stop drawing at thirteen or, should you have already done so, to rekindle your love of art and the joy of the written word. That some of the compositions are painted on top of dictionary pages, legally binding documents or ruled school exercise books might (might) even be a direct thumbing of the nose to her Ma. So often we’re told that so much is verboten, but for Lynda Barry anything and everything goes and there’s something wonderfully direct and liberating about her treating such a plush hardcover as if it were her personal ‘zine or scrapbook.

Lynda’s invented a brand-new character to join her Staring Cephalopod: the Near-Sighted Monkey complete with horn-rimmed glasses, a housework headscarf, and a lit ciggie dangling from her mouth. There’s an early portrait of her with a Caribbean tinge to it, playing poker in front of a book case: “The Near Sighted Monkey won’t fold!” Good advice for life; invaluable advice for the artist in all of us. In fact PICTURE THIS is packed with the most elaborate, organic collages of image, autobiography and exhortation whose swirling frames often form hidden messages, and there are questions far more fundamental to the creative process than most of us are used to in our everyday lives. “What’s Inside Your Artbox?” is, I’d contend, a much wider question than a physical accounting would necessarily answer – though Lynda does ask you to love your brush and care for it.

She asks us questions like what’s the difference between writing and drawing the alphabet, what makes a picture creepy, and what makes adults scared to draw? She breaks down the unnatural barriers between the adult and the so-called child’s domain. Why is colouring for retards? Why are picture books only for children? Why is writing or drawing a waste of time? Answer: none of them are. I think as readers and/or creators of comics in the U.S. and U.K., you can empathise with the rejection of that sort of censorious ignorance which will have told you several times that comics are just for kids. My own father asked me aged nineteen, “Why are you still reading those things?” and again, when I was attempting to hone my writing skills, “When are you going to get a proper job?” If he were alive I’d show him Page 45; he was, after all, he was a businessman. Truth be told, he’d just have come back with those same two questions again.

But picture this instead: a life liberated from the confines of what is supposedly allowed. You are allowed, for example, to be stressed or upset, and to work your way through that with painting in Pointillism or, you know, drawing a bloody chicken. Here’s Lynda in gloriously mischievous mode with barely a punctuation mark in sight:

“Sometimes we feel we cannot draw a chicken so here is a chicken to use on those days, to copy, trace, cut out and paste. The dear chicken is on the job! (Dear Van Dyke, At first I thought the chicken was crappy looking but then I had my heart broken and making that crappy chicken was the only thing that made me feel better.) Take some dark moody paper and draw a chicken outline. Ball up little pieces of cotton or lint or tissue paper it will get better things will get better put down a line of glue on the chicken and put wads of sadness onto the chicken, then more glue then more wads of sadness it is okay to watch TV while you are doing this, it will get better.”

Too much maturity seems to me overrated – it smacks of old age and conservatism. It smacks of windows closed, and no risks taken; no adventure in sight. It smacks of having stopped, and although I’m only a quarter of my way through this book so far, I won’t be told that I can’t publish my enthusiasm this early during my reading process, my thinking progress because, as Lynda so rightly proclaims of the spiritually healthy,

“Always, we are en route.”


 Fluorescent Black (£18-99, Heavy Metal) by M.F. Wilson & Nathan Fox.

“Nina, your doctor says if I give you to Ugen, they will hurt you, kill you, right? We never gave you a fair chance. So now, you got one way out. You pick up that gun, you kill me, you go free. You want to survive, you do what you have to do. My Mom told me that, long time ago.”
“I know. I remember. She also said: what you do in life makes you what you are.”
“Yeah, we all go our problems, neh?”

Welcome to future of South East Asia where gene-tech has divided humans into two different races, and where being diagnosed as having the genetic condition Dystonia gets you and your family summarily ejected from the Utopia that is Singapore to the wretched Malaysian Peninsula where the copulation and defecation in the streets makes Hogarth’s Gin Lane look like a stroll down The Champs Élysées. It’s riddled with whores you’d pay big bucks not to touch, even with a love glove on. And if there are locks on the doors then they sure don’t work as narrator Max, his sister Blue and his mother discover their very first night when the human predators prowl. Innocence is lost with a pull of the trigger, their mother soon lost as well. She begs them to sell her body parts, so they do what they must to survive.

Originally serialised in HEAVY METAL magazine, this massive, album-sized, twisted-metal, limb-tearing car-crash of human suffering and oppression – of tyranny, duplicity and gene-splicing – is an impressively controlled riot of colour and carnage perpetrated by an artist with much love for Paul Pope. Whether it’s the derelict refuge in the heart of a forest-turned-swamp strangled by the mutant hybrid of poison ivy and marijuana, the neurally synchronised, purple, peyote-like trip Max and Nina share on its roof or the full-page portrait of their naked bodies hungrily clasped in sexual intercourse, the pages here are evidence of a ferocious passion shared by these two creators, backed up by some an array of tribute pages by the likes of Becky Cloonan, Guy Davis and Tim Bradstreet.

Nina has never been outside. Reared in Ugen’s Singapore nursery, she has none of the scars Max’s body bears for she has had no life. She’s too innocent to be fearful. Already immune to all known viral and bacterial agents, Nina is injected with Ultagen, the new gene-suite designed to streamline the brain’s processes, but the integration proves far more successful than Dr. Aja Rupinder could have imagined or necessarily wanted for Nina immediately finds herself both receiving and transmitting cognitive information too powerful for most others to handle, and before they can induce another event the nursery is raided by Max and his fellow outcasts who have been paid good money to abduct the test subject in the full knowledge that they were set up to die. From then on it’s war – a massive, sprawling war – as Ugen and their industrial saboteurs fight to retrieve Nina from a Max who’s far from enamoured of either. His sister is kidnapped, his friends are picked off and his enemies have upgrades of their own.

It’s a grisly and rancid evocation of human beings regarded as so much detritus: unwanted waste products of a society obsessed with self-preservation, self-perfection and “sick with self-importance” and I don’t doubt it greatly appeal to readers of Brian Wood’s DMZ or Warren Ellis. It’s hefty, it’s harsh, and I love the fluorescent, spot-varnish purple on the matt-black cover.

“The Biopolis was their only refuge from our homemade pests. With our gene-taps we spliced insects and vermin to plague them. Mutant aphids to kill their gardens. Plants with psychotropic pollen. Tiny moths that would chew holes in their designer clothes.
“We were waging a war on their environment. So they hid inside their bubbles. They used ethercides and zappers to keep out our creations. They went to great lengths to rid their perfect ecosystem of any threats. Threats like us.”


Blab World vol 1 h/c (£18-99, Last Gasp) by various.

New incarnation of the BLAB! anthology which, as I suspected, is now predominantly an art book catering to the Juxtapose crowd under the heading of ‘Artpocalypse’. Mark Ryden’s in it, Spain Rodriguez, Femke Hiemstra and Ron English too.

On the short strip side, Sergio Ruzzier and Greg Clarke are on the same page both stylistically and thematically with a couple of bleak little tales, one about an artist who, after a life alone, ends up in a grave, the other about an art collector who, after a life deserted, ends up pickled in a Damien Hirst exhibition. By contrast the lyrical ‘Lament On The Death Of Willie’ by Julia Moore and Steven Guarnaccia is a much brighter affair on account of Willie’s demise, Willie having tormented his sister, cat and purple monkey. Also, Mark Landman’s instantly recognisable Foetal Elvis is back complete with beautifully coloured, background Texture Anarchy which is a lot softer on the eye than the term implies. “‘Foetal Elvis’ usually lampoons subjects like the art and/or comics world, politics, the Elvis ‘mythos’, sibling rivalries and substance abuse. The story I’m currently working on, ‘Foetal Elvis’s Art Empire’, examines the L.A. lowbrow art scene,” wrote Mark. As for Mark Todd, his tale of ‘The Dreaded Mothman Of West Virginia, at a full four pages long, seems positively epic. Seemingly drawn, painted, felt-tipped and chalked onto the back of sixteen age-stained beer mats, it tells of the spectral Mothman’s reign of terror over the minds of an otherwise bored population of irate country folk (read: axes, pitchforks and projected indignation) and the atrocities attributed to him like the infamous goat shortage of 1967.

There are also some essays. ‘Ballpoint Bravura: Drawings by CJ Pyle’, for example, examines the striking art of C.J. Pyle rendered on the inside of found LP sleeves in coloured pencil and ballpoint pen, and is probably the only decent use of a biro in the history of Fine Art. They’re gorgeous mutant portraits, so densely yet delicately textured so as to appear to be made out of wool. It’s referred to as his “woven-knot” style whose end result makes the subjects look like human hybrids (crossed with dogs, bears, baboons etc.) all suffering from hypertrichosis like the Lion-Faced Man.

Sandman vol 1: Preludes And Nocturnes (New Ed’n) (£14-99, Vertigo) by Neil Gaiman & Sam Kieth, Mike Dringenberg, Malcolm Jones III.

Now with added ABSOLUTE EDITION colours with a complete change in trade dress. Volumes two and three also out.

Morpheus is the Lord of Dreams, his family are The Endless. Each of them is older than you can comprehend, though some are older than others. They are as gods to mortals – though they can surely die – and they can change as we change, for they are reflections of our everyday existence.

Destiny, cowled and quiet, holds in his hands the book of all that is, all that was, and all that will ever be. Dream, his skin as white as the moon, his clothes the colour of midnight, is remote and cold and unforgiving, meticulous in his duties, obsessive when in love. By contrast, Death, his older sister, is kind and compassionate and far better company than you’d image, though one day you’ll discover that for yourself. Desire is fickle but irresistible: he/she will appear as the most beautiful woman or man you have ever seen, whereas its twin Despair is terrible to behold and terrible to endure. Delirium doesn’t know what she is for most of the time, but in her rare, lucid moments she remembers many things, most tragically, perhaps, that she used to be Delight. They are a family, like the Greek gods, and like most families they fall out. One member of the Endless is missing. Who that is, I will not tell you, nor why he went away. All I will impart is that one member of The Endless is playing a very dangerous game, as another is going to find out…

Over the course of ten books Gaiman introduces us to The Endless, and their roles in Morpheus’ story. This will draw him to Hell and back via ancient Africa, the East and Greece, Elizabethan England, the dreams of cats, an American serial killer convention and a city preserved in a bottle. You’ll meet Norse and Egyptian deities, demons and angels, Lucifer, Shakespeare, Barbie and Ken, Orpheus, the Faerie, and a host of contemporary individuals as they come into contact with Dream and his siblings. For The Endless have always played a role in our lives – often benign, sometimes less so – and they’re not above making mistakes.

Overwhelmingly this is a story about stories, about decisions and consequences, responsibility, growth and the power of dreams. It opens in Britain in 1916 where an obsessive occultist, Roderick Burgess, is planning to live forever. To do that he must capture Death herself. He fails. He captures someone else instead, which has ramifications all over the world, until his son makes a fateful error in 1988…


Scary Godmother h/c (£18-99, Dark Horse) by Jill Thompson.

Finally the full-colour prose-and-illustration hardcovers reappear under an infinitely more attractive, bright green cover, and in a far more affordable format: all four here for the price of two! Hopefully they’ll do the same for the black and white comics too, though (at the time of typing) we do still have a single copy of GHOUL’S OUT FOR SUMMER. The character designs from Jill are fun, pretty and witty: two aristocratic vampires plus be-spectacled son, a boyish Werewolf, a big, multi-bug-eyed hairy purple monster, a walking, talking skeleton and Scary Godmother (or Jill Thompson herself!) all welcome young Hanna to their bonkers Halloween world. The storybooks are geared more exclusively towards younger children, whereas the comicbook material has left adults and older children chuckling throughout. Expect Chas Addams-like reversals of expectation, mysteries and misunderstandings. In THE MYSTERY DATE, for example, Scary Godmother has a secret admirer; once word gets out amongst the neighbouring ghouls, everyone competes for her affection.


Solomon Kane vol 2: Death’s Black Riders (£11-99, Dark Horse) by Scott Allie & Mario Guevara.

More horrors for our hooked-nose puritan whom you would swear blind was drawn by Guy Davis, particularly during All The Damned Souls At Sea chapter. It’s the second in Dark Horse’s recent resurrection rather than the original material, but I enjoyed the first one enormously. Don’t have time for another right now: trying to launch a website! Stewart Lee just bought a copy at Page 45 before his performance at the Corner House the other Monday, though. If he ever interviews Alan Moore again, make sure you’re there: sterling performances of both their parts.

Hellboy: Masks And Monsters (£13-50, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola, James Robinson, Scott Benefiel, Jansen Rodriguez.

First time these two crossovers have been collected into a HELLBOY book as Batman and Hellboy are joined by James Robinson’s Starman go up against (no, you’ll never guess) Nazis! Then it’s time for the HELLBOY line to try to draw attention to the Ghost who starred in one of several superhero comics Dark Horse thought would be good to launch some seventeen years ago, possibly misled by the likes of publishers Valiant. It wasn’t a good idea, it was entirely our of character, Valiant were about to implode anyway, and no one cared about either. That’s no reflection on the stories here, of course, and the book is dedicated to writer/editor Archie Goodwin. Nice one.


Ultimate Comics Avengers vol 2: Crime And Punishment h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Mark Millar & Leinil Francis Yu.

“So what did this thing do to piss everyone off?”
“The greatest crime of all, Mister Cash. It murdered some rich people.”

Fast and furious (i.e. lots of pictures, increasingly fewer words) as the writer of AMERICAN JESUS begins to bring the supernatural to the fore of the Ultimate Universe in the form of not one but two chain-wielding, flaming-skulled Ghost Riders, both as strong as Thor, who have sold their souls to the devil in order to take each other out. The question is why? Nick Fury bolsters his crew with two new heavy hitters unaccustomed to following orders, but he may find it counterproductive. For a start there’s the original Hulk – i.e. not Bruce Banner – and Millar writes the Punisher like the lean, mean killing machine he is. This has got to be the longest speech in the book:

“My name is Frank Castle and for the past two months I’ve been offing twice as much scum as usual. These stiffs were part of an Eastern European people-trafficking outfit and I’ve been working my way through their family-chain like an Ebola virus. In the last week alone, I’ve made more than fifteen kills and drawn the attention of a Mister Joseph Petrenko a.k.a. Russia’s Red Hammer. He runs more of that country than Prime Minister Putin and word is he doesn’t believe his American captains are all being taken down by some lone vigilante.
“He figures New York’s mob bosses are trying to muscle him out of town and so he’s requested a sit-down. “Nobody wants a bloodbath,” he told his chief lieutenants.
“Obviously, we haven’t met.”

More than ever Millar emphasises that his chief protagonists are not heroes. They’re a black ops assassination squad with vested corporate interests in the United States Of America Inc. under the command of a customarily crooked White House. They’re not above using blackmail as well as lethal force, plus the people they’re protecting here are worse than the creature that’s after them. Excellent Hawkeye moment right at the end – the seeds of dissent? – and I’ve always loved a good crossword:

“Christ in pain, brutal character assassination. Nine letters. Hmmm…”

UK softcover already out @ £12-99!

Thunderbolts: Cage h/c (£14.99, Marvel) by Jeff Parker & Kev Walker

One of the many assignations Steve Rogers has been doling out to Luke in particular, this seems the most peculiar: take on the most consistent repeat-offenders from the supervillain world and try to reform them by turning them into a team to do damage. Also, include the muck-monster Man-Thing as your travel agent. Man-Thing is famous for two things: he can teleport (sort of), but more importantly “Whoever knows fear burns at the Man-Thing’s touch!”. He’s like the Swamp Thing only with empathic pyromania. It does go tits-up, yes.


Bryan Hitch’s Ultimate Comics Studio h/c (£14-99, Impact) by Bryan Hitch.

History and ‘How To…’ guide, all beautifully illustrated by comics’ finest neo-classical photorealist as evidenced by ULTIMATES SEASONS ONE and TWO plus Mark Millar’s similarly epic two FANTASTIC FOUR books. Hitch was also responsible for designing much of the new, improved Doctor Who by Russell T. Davies. He has words of informed wisdom for you:

“I don’t consider myself to be an artist, or even a comic artist. First and foremost I consider myself to be a storyteller. It always has to be about a story. Comics are nothing more (or less) than a visual storytelling medium; if you want to draw pretty pictures then be an illustrator, painter, designer or something else that doesn’t require you to tell a story. Comics need this from beginning to end. I’m not trying to be brutal with you but if some part of every decision or choice you make in your comicbook drawing isn’t made because it aids the storytelling, then you need to make another one that does.”

Time after time Bryan backs this up after a quick tour round his workspace, writing about panel composition, visualising scripts and making early rough doodles, adapting the pace of any given script, how to create different rhythms, his love of impact, drawing your eye, creating roughs so that you address any composition problems at the earliest possible stage, camera angles, focus, vanishing points and perspective, character placement taking into account where the word balloons will go, graphic blacks and the best way of creating night-time cityscapes, environments (see, told you they were ever so slightly important) and plausibility or – I love big words, me – “verisimilitude”, before getting down to the nitty gritty of tool options and the business end of things.

I can’t impress on you strongly enough how detailed this all is, adroitly illustrated by the comics pages he chooses to reproduce both in pencil, ink and fully finished colour as required by what he’s discussing. I’ve long been in love with neo-classicism but as Millar says, if the story ain’t there it means nothing to me, hence my love of David Finch’s AVENGERS: DISASSEMBLED yet my contempt for ULTIMATES 3. Bryan Hitch, however, is far and away my favourite superhero artist, though, and you need ULTIMATES SEASONS ONE and TWO.

Icons: The DC And Wildstorm Art Of Jim Lee h/c (£37-99, Titan) by Jim Lee.

Whoa! Seriously big book bulging with biceps and – his gaudy WILDCATS atrocities aside – a gorgeous range of pencils, inks and full-colour pages, some of which are even rendered in watercolour. You don’t see much of that from Jim. At the pencil stage he resembles John Byrne when at his height around the time he left UNCANNY X-MEN (if you stumble across Byrne’s pencils they look radically different from Terry Austin’s finished inks) and once you’ve seen Jim’s here I’m pretty damn confident that you’ll be buying DC’s pencil version of BATMAN: HUSH which I previewed last month. There’s even that EX MACHINA page he did: the laugh-out-loud punchline to the sequence in which EX MACHINA’s regular creators, Brian K. Vaughan and Tony Harris, audition for the job of turning the life of Major Hundred into a comic (I deliberately skipped giving that game away in the relevant review and now urge you to forget you ever read his and start reading EX MACHINA immediately). Of course, now that DC has scrapped Wildstorm that title will seem odd in a few years time…

Cardcaptor Sakura Omnibus vol 1 (£14-99, Dark Horse) by CLAMP –

Ten years ago Mark succinctly wrote:

More schoolgirl heroism as a plague of otherworldly beings descends and it comes down to one girl to capture the spirits. From the same team that bought us CLOVER, this is perfectly suitable for all ages.


Superior #1 (£2-25, Millarworld/Icon/Marvel) by Mark Millar & Leinil Yu.

I like the fact that Mark Millar isn’t greedy. He knows he’ll sell a lot of copies, so doesn’t feel the need to charge $3-99. DC have just dropped their $3-99 to $2-99 (as of January, I think) and since both companies are sheep in wolves’ clothing, I’m pretty confident Marvel may do the same.

It’s another book in which the protagonists refer to superheroes as fictional comicbook characters for that’s what they are. Simon Pooni and best pal Chris have just been to see Tad Scott star in the fight Superior film:

“What do you think?”
“Meh. The effects are okay, but Superior’s been around since my papa was a kid. I’m kinda bored with these old superheroes. No wonder this guy can’t get any other work… I’m not saying his powers aren’t cool. He’s just too much of a Boy Scout for people these days. They need to make him more bad-ass like Bond or Jason Bourne.”
“Seriously? I always liked the fact that Superior doesn’t kill people. Being a nice guy is what makes him different to Wolverine and all that stuff.”
“No, that’s what makes him lame. Look at his costume, dude. He looks like freakin’ Santa Claus. I told you we should have sneaked into the Statham movie.”
“Oh shit.”
“Hey, faggots. You have a nice time making out in the back row?”
“Just ignore him, Chris.”
“I hear the basketball team’s really missing you these days, Pooni. Still, the way you guys play, they might as well have a cripple up front.”
“Drop dead, Sharpie. Stop being such a dick.”
“Ooh, look who’s getting all brave. Your boyfriend can’t protect you anymore, fuck-wad. Not unless he’s got some ground-to-air missile thing going on in that wheelchair.”
“Haha! That would be awesome. Imagine he could press a button and like, fire fucking machine guns.”
“You’re an asshole, Sharpie, and you’ve always been an asshole. If I wasn’t in this chair, I’d kick your ass all over the mall.”
“Yeah, well. I got news for you, Simon… you kinda are in that chair.”

Yeah, Simon kinda is in that chair. Multiple Sclerosis snuck on him with particular aggression; he’s even lost the sight of one eye and on bad days he can barely talk. There are days of remission, weeks even, but nothing permanent and yeah, Millar knows his stuff. My one worry was that this, Millar’s riff on Superman/Shazam, ran the risk of insulting the plight of those who can’t say “Kimota!” and transform into perfect superhuman specimens but have indeed lost the use of one side of their body, or their peripheral vision rendering them unable to scan more than one word at a time. Comics with their narrow speech balloons are actually perfect for that, as they are for dyslexia. Anyway, it’s too early to tell for sure but I don’t think Millar’s going to fall into that trap because this ain’t as straightforward as he first made out. I think I’ll leave you to discover what happens for yourself, but a talking monkey at the bottom of your bed isn’t exactly conducive to an easy night’s sleep.

Lovely art from Travis Charest – sorry, Leinil Yu – on both the boys, the Mom, the monkey and whatever the hell it is Simon has found himself transformed into.

Kick-Ass 2 #1 (£2-25, Millarworld/Icon/Marvel) by Mark Millar & John Romita Jr..

As ever the best bits for me involve nerd-chatter in school and the constant reminders that these bold but delusional idiots in costumes do not have powers. This isn’t a superhero series: there are no superpowers, just a lot of crushed testicles and beatings. The young lad dressing up in green and gold has made a new friend and here they are strolling through a crowd on ‘patrol’:

“What did you say your name was again?”
“Doctor Gravity. During the day I’m a physics professor over at Columbia, but I built the gravity pole in my spare time for when I’m fighting crime.”
“What does it do?”
“Just hit the button and you can make something twenty times its actual weight. Flip the reverse and you can float.”
“Are you nuts? It’s a baseball bat wrapped in tinfoil, man. How you anyone build a gravity pole?”

Kick-Ass has inspired others to don freakish, home-made fancy dress, and I love Romita’s handling of the thick material and bulky costumes adapted from high street clothes stores. Additionally Tom Palmer grounds it further from fantasy with a wash of grey before the colours are added – you can see the process in the back.

Inevitably after the solo and team-up with Mindy (now grounded in spite of the arsenal found under her bedroom floorboards), emulation of superhero comics turns into the equivalent of a team title. I do hope DC aren’t in the mood to sue.

You can’t buy the series direct on our website right now [be patient, for I can confirm phase two has begun… – Asst. Ed.] though you can phone, email or – shockingly – walk through our door, so I’ll link instead to the first book.


Carnage #1 of 5 (£2-99, Marvel) by Zeb Wells & Clayton Crain.

Clayton Crain’s art, particularly but not exclusively on the symbiotes, resembles life after the skin’s been removed: all muscle and sinew rubbed in oil. It’d be awful for romance but perfect for carnage and Carnage is what you’ll get eventually. Before that it’s something else that’s in swinging pursuit of an armoured vehicle: something with six arms and eyes in a Spider-Man costume that attracts the attention of Iron Man and Spidey. Tom mentioned something about this harking back to MAXIMUM CARNAGE (forgive his knowledge, he was young); I couldn’t make head nor tail of it.

Page 45 Reviews October 2010 week two

Saturday, October 30th, 2010

Hopeless Savages: Greatest Hits 2000-2010 (£14-99, Oni Press) by Jen Van Meter & Christine Norrie, Bryan Lee O’Malley, Chynna Clugston Flores, Ross Campbell, Andi Watson, Vera Brosgol, Becky Cloonan, Mike Norton, Tim Fish, Catherine Norrie, Meredith McClaren, Terry Dodson.

Everything to date in one massive volume including bonus strips in colour.

PHONOGRAM’s Jamie McKelvie writes: “Every comicbook I make owes something to HOPELESS SAVAGES.”

Here’s a newly extended version of my review of volume two from 3007 BC:

The titular Hopeless-Savages are a family whose figureheads are two punk legends, each infamous in their own right before getting it on and really setting the world on fire. Now they’ve four children, the youngest of which is Zero, seventeen, with a fully formed band of her own. Rehearsing within earshot of her Grammy Award-winning parents proves a lot less daunting than falling in love with the only guy at college who doesn’t want to get straight into her pants. Ginger’s in love with her all right, and has been since early childhood, but he’s reticent to the point where she has to do all the courting (indeed to begin with he’s convinced that all she could want from him is a Platonic friendship which would cause him more pain than nothing at all), and Jen and Bryan both succeed in evoking all the awkwardness and frustration and desperation involved when confidence is low but there’s so much to gain. Complicating things further, Zero gets grounded just as an intrusive television crew descends on the Hopeless-Savages for a Fame & Shame “Legends Of Rock” type affair, furiously blurts out a confession of love for the boy she supposes at that point to hate her, and faces the prospect of this being a prime piece of footage when the programme is aired.

Van Meter’s set-up is smart: although no one seems capable of seeing past their clothes, names and reputations built by those who themselves couldn’t see past their clothes, names and reputations, each member of the family is a clearly defined individual in their own right, which constantly lands them in trouble in the Principal’s office – the proud, non-conformist parents included. This gives Jen has plenty to play with, yet she declines to force them all on us at once, introducing just enough history to illuminate the individual’s perspective on any given situation, should they care to share it. This is where the flashbacks come in, and her choice of artists proves perfect for each.

Bryan Lee O’Malley (SCOTT PILGRIM, LOST AT SEA) renders particularly squidgy versions of the characters – superdeformed as the description goes for Japanese figures – and lends a real passion to the confrontations. But I also particularly enjoyed Chynna’s tender sequence in which, when asked by Zero for advice, art-school brother Twitch reflects wistfully on his own prior love life, and feels that his succession of mistakes born of one big mistake make him wholly unqualified to comment. As it happens, they make him eminently qualified, for that one big mistake was to sacrifice his true love for Henry for fear of holding back his career. Zero follows her brother outside:

“I think you were brave. Like that thing? About if you love someone –”
“Set ’em free? Passive-aggressive crap’s what that is. You don’t need to set people free. They already are. Henry and I might not have been forever, but so what? Not every good important relationship is. I was afraid he’d regret the missed chance and come to resent me. I turned away, settled for less to avoid future pain. You do that, you’ll get nothing but what you deserve.”
“So I shouldn’t give up?”
Listen to me. If the one is right there… and you cheat or betray that in any way… everything that comes after will suffer. Everything.”

One of the bonus colour strips, by the way, sees Twitch and Henry first get it together which in turn catalyses Henry’s brother Claude getting it together with Twitch’s sister Arsenal… during a judo competition!

My only qualms are – once again – Zero’s made-up language. I don’t know if the device is for euphemistic purposes (i.e. to replace swearing) but some of the actual choices are less than convincing.

However, coming back to Ginger’s initial fears, this piece of dialogue really takes the biscuit, and if you’ve ever been there then you’ll join me in wishing we all had a little of the young lad’s self-knowledge:

“I don’t want to be the nice guy you hang out with while you repair the damage done to your self-image by egotistical thugs who wildly underestimate your worth. I don’t want your head on my shoulder while you tell me what a great friend I am, so sensitive, just like a brother. I don’t want to have to act happy for you when you go off with some charismatic idiot who – at best – thinks you’re an ordinary girl and not the treasure I know you to be. I don’t want to look at you wistfully every so often, but never dare admit I’ve been wild about you since first grade because it would complicate your life and ruin the friendship. I’ve seen it. I don’t want it. Sorry.”

Way to go, Jen.


King-Cat #71 (£2-99, Spit & A Half) by John Porcellino ~

John’s been a busy man this year. This issue of KING-CAT marks a subtle departure from the previous issues. In the year since #70, John’s toured twice, moved state again, this time to Florida, started a blog and reopened his Spit & A Half distribution; he’s even popped up on Facebook. What this brings to light, however, is the difference between writing personal and often profound comics compared with the loose and wily ways of the internet. If you were to read his blog (called amusingly “Maybe Blogging Will Help”) or befriend him on Facebook, facets of his personal life which he explores openly within KING-CAT merely become stark details in their online capacity. It really puts into perspective the argument of how blogs allegedly killed ‘zines over the last decade. The difference between the two media and the manner of how John communicates through them are in stark contrast to one another. On the one hand his blog is amusing but unremarkable (#43 in his own Top Forty), while his comics are succinct with an appreciation for the repose between images and words. They’re also very funny, thoughtful and often heart wrenching.

And for the first time in a long while the cover is a cartoon; ringing with irony, it’s a departure from the usual contemplative buildings and plants.

Sub Life vol 2 (£5-99, Fantagraphics) by John Pham ~

This is a beautiful object to behold, as an anthropomorphic nebula appears to be connecting with a spacewalking Captain Ho in a parody of the Sistine Chapel’s infamous fresco. With that the cover perfectly entices you to the main story, Deep Space for reasons that will become apparent. Themes of apocalypse, isolation and survival underpin all the stories in this series, even 221 Sycamore Avenue. It’s right there on the cover of volume one, L.A. falling off the end of the world, the ocean dragging everything over the edge. But there’s a sense of wonder that comes with that awareness of impeding doom. It’s the curiosity of the rubbernecker observing the pile-up on the road, but slowly driving on, insulated in apathetic denial.

Volume two continues the Deep Space adventures of Captain Ho, Commander Wallace and Alien guide, Deek. It’s a mind (and page) warping journey into oblivion as the crew of the lost ship attempt to utilise an alien energy source to jump home, with disastrous psychedelic effects as Cap. Ho, in a DMT-like state induced by engaging warp, sends the vessel into unknown space by addictively punching the button at random. Cap. Ho’s excitement at being reunited with his wife and child is displaced with crushing shame as the often trouser-less Commander assumes the voice of sanity. It takes a confident and skilled artist to convey subtle tones of unease and insecurity with such precision, let alone deliver this with a wry sense of humour. This succeeds where too often I’ve seen comics attempt and fail. Even when the actual narrative tricks employed are inherently entertaining, most comics fail to grasp the emotional spectrum involved when altering your brain chemistry, and even writing about having a trip at all is derivative and obvious, while through a solid allegory John has demonstrated the enlightening and devastating effects drugs take in a balanced way. The slow and inevitable effect of the fall of the industrial age always fascinated me growing up, as here it is happening all around us, and no other film encapsulated those feelings of future exhaustion then Mad Max. But Mad Max was the last thing I was expecting to find in the flip of this! John once again shifts his style for this unofficial sequel: wide-panel long-shots are scratched out of the paper in muted orange and dirty carbon line work as Max does what needs to be done in order to keep the V-8 Interceptor running until a discovery of a bunker and its young armed inhabitant send him down a different path, at high speed.


Saturn Apartments vol 1 (£9-99, Viz/Sigikki) by Hisae Iwaoka ~

The vanguard of this conveyer-belt culture exists in an annexed state, orbiting the circumference of Earth in a giant space station called The Ring. The planet which was once our home is now a cordoned-off nature preserve, while above in The Ring human nature survives along with its defining social divides. Across its three levels humanity perseveres, adhering to a simple design: in the upper level live the wealthy and the powerful, in the middle the civil services, schools and factories stand, while on the lower levels live the poor en masse. So unbalanced are the resources in this capitalist ideal that the lower levels are shrouded in perpetual night as no one can afford to clean the outside and let the sun in, despite the workers contracted to don pressure suits and clean the outer layer all living there.

Mitsu has just left school. An orphan from the lower levels, his father fell to Earth while cleaning windows years ago, and now he’s following in his footsteps. Naïve and impressionable, he’s partnered with cranky and cynical old master Jin, and the two of them strike a brilliant dynamic of enthusiasm and experience. Through the work Mitsu contends with the often contradictory echelons of his society, while learning something of his father, a man he barely remembers. Unlike most SF there’s no great nemesis here, no cause to strive for, nor rebellion to instigate or repel. Life in Saturn Apartments is like life anywhere, people striving to better themselves and to better the world. Sure there are some, like a few of Mitsu’s colleagues, who feel the world owes them something, but that attitude is the product of their personal insecurity. They’re the kind of jaded characters fed up with their lot that you can recognise in all walks of life. And quite often a change of perspective can clear even the most opaque views.

Hisae’s art is delicate, soft yet detailed. Her figures are predominantly round with bulbous heads, like some perfect union of Moebius and Tezuka’s styles. While the different environments they inhabit feel solid, the upper and middle levels remind me of the Barbican on a grand scale. Particularly the way its apartment’s sharp modern design is giving way to an individual lived-in look, while the lower level is a floor-to-ceiling shanty town of shady claustrophobic high-rises reminiscent of Michael Wolf’s photographs of Hong Kong architecture.

This is a contender for the Manga of the year for me. It’s just beautiful.


Hilarious Consequences (£7-99, Records, Records, Records, records) by Babak Ganjei ~

I must be honest, when Babak initially called to see if we would stock his comic I was sceptical, in fact I flat-out thought from the nervous description he was a crazy man who had most probably scrawled something crude on a piece of paper and gone at it with the safety scissors. But when I received this and read it I was blown away by how utterly hilarious it actually is. So, Babak, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry. I was either very wrong or you actually are so crazy, you’ve gone right through the whole spectrum of crazy and back into sane again. I think that’s to your advantage though, as starting a record company by releasing a book is quite unorthodox! Babak’s apparently autobiographical comic is genius. Channelling Chris Morris’ MY WRONGS #8245-8249 & 117 with the immediacy and charm of Jeffrey Brown’s CLUMSY, Babak paints his life as a failure, a washed-up hipster in a one-man band, suffering from an acute case of complacency. All of which would be unremarkable if it were not for the visceral monologues which he constantly finds himself making before quickly realising what he just said out loud to his girlfriend, infant son, or utter stranger is completely inappropriate and slightly frightening. We’re introduced to this hapless sad sack in a moment of weakness as he enters a Chinese herbalist and is promptly rinsed for all his worth over a remedy for stress. The remedy, a foul tea, some suspicious pills and rank soup, only stresses him out further as he can’t afford the £60 price tag so falls into debt with the intimidating hard sellers. This debt is further compacted by the fact that his jobless and his career choice is music. Prospects aren’t good when nobody listens to you when you’re alone on stage with nothing but a guitar and a beard to hide behind, but they go from bad to worse when electro-rockabilly outfit Robocow are on next. Events spiral and while he does find work in a hip bar, the care-free attitude of the younger, prettier members of staff only serve to confound him, so when he reluctantly partakes of cocaine during a Christmas Party (which typically of work parties is in May) he finds himself in an in-depth conversation about the weather for the duration of the high. It’s possibly the most realistic drug scene ever made, regardless of the medium. As stated above, this is actually the first release from Babak’s record company and comes with an Original Motion Picture Soundtrack! Featuring: The Bronsteins, Macks Faulkron, Wonderswan, Dignan Porch, Singing Adams, Round Ron Virgin, Dan Michaelson and the Coastguards, Cheatahs, Big Deal, Wet Paint, and Matthew C.H. Tong.


Recidivist (£12-99) by Zak Sally ~

Restocks! Graphic yet somewhat fractured collection of short stories from the ex-bass player of Low. [We have the new Zak Sally album! See merchandise section – Ed.]

Legend has it that Zak bought a printing press for just $200 and decided to focus on his first passion, comics. Thus La Mano was born and in 2005 year released the long-awaited second King-Cat collection, DIARY OF A MOSQUITO ABATEMENT MAN, which promptly won an Ignatz award for Best Collection. Not too shabby for a publisher’s first release!

I read an interview with Zak not too long ago where he explained how he would try and do what he could of his comic in-between tours and other band engagements, which goes someway to explain the fractured nature of these stories. Although, like a good song, any faults could perhaps be seen as self-analytical of the artist. An honest and graphic self-inspection of one’s own ethics and life. In that way it reminds me most of the early work by The Holy Consumption collective. Plus there’s a bit of a punk vibe about doing it yourself which I admire and respect. This is a gorgeous little hardcover which comes, as the cover depicts, from the heart.

On a slightly off-topic note, when I first started working here Mark told me how years back, Zak would come into the store and give him mini-comics in an effort to try and gain his friends in the states more exposure. He’d do this in every city with a comic store, I’m sure. Mark however, hadn’t got into them as a band yet, so in his own words “Ignored him because I thought they were ripping off Spacemen 3 a bit”. Lol.


A Sickness In The Family h/c (£14-99, Vertigo Crime) by Denise Mina & Antonio Fuso.

Generally I’m a very slow reader ( I’ve never learned nor had the desire to learn how to speed-read) but I whizzed through this, which racks in as my favourite in these pocketbook Vertigo Crime hardcovers alongside Azzarello’s FILTHY RICH. I didn’t even mind the typed, capital lettering too much which must be a first for me. I stopped noticing it the second I realised that the dialogue was going to be far from predictable.

Written by the author responsible for HELLBLAZER: EMPATHY IS THE ENEMY and RED RIGHT HAND, it kicks off at Christmas in a basement flat in what I take to be Glasgow as a battered Polish woman discharges herself from hospital and, much to the alarm of her taxi driver, returns home to her Scottish husband, then tries to placate him only to be met with further belittling:

“Before we move here you never talk to me like this. Why you talk to me like this now? You don’t love me more?”
“Many more?”
Anymore, I don’t love you anymore.”
“You don’t love me?”
“I’m correcting your English, ya Polish bint.”
“But I’m still loving you.”
“Sit down. Watch telly. Cheer up.”

Meanwhile on the floors above a family is enduring an already strained Christmas made worse by the household’s father’s insistence on making a truly excruciating speech. Although to be fair, his wife, his newly resident mother-in-law, his son and his daughter receive it with more ill humour than it deserves. His younger, adopted son, Sam, is the narrator recalling these events in what seems like a somewhat clinical environment. When they hear the sound of violence from below it’s Sam who thinks to break it up with the excuse of offering the couple burnt Christmas pudding. By which point it’s far, far too late…

The father’s just sold off the family business which his daughter was hoping to inherit, whilst his older son has just been expelled from Oxford University. And, much to his wife’s disgust, the man of the house insists on investing the proceeds from the sale on buying the basement flat so that he can knock through and install a staircase. The hole in the floor takes five seconds, but the staircase refuses to materialise leaving a gaping, thirty-foot drop which messes with the acoustics unnervingly. Then, in the middle of the night, the mother-in-law/grandmother screams and is found sprawled on the floor of that basement flat having fallen – or been pushed – through the hole in the floorboards. Miraculously she survives both the fall and the stroke (before or after the fall?) but is left both immobile and dumb, and consigned by the family to that very basement to be visited by Sam and Sam alone. He swears she’s trying to tell him something. How fractured or self-interested must members of that family be to neglect such a vulnerable old lady? Also, who’s next?

There’s little worse than racing through a graphic novel you’re loving (although plodding through one you’re barely enduring pretty much sucks; also being maimed, murdered or talked to by a Tory MP) than reaching a crashingly dull or anticlimactic end. Fear not: this one’s a killer.

If we haven’t made it clear before that these are black and white efforts, I do apologise. It’s peculiar perhaps but personally I don’t read black and white comics any differently from colour comics whereas I do absorb black and white films differently from colour ones given that, I guess, it signifies their age. (I’m still not sure which explanation I believe for Lindsay Anderson’s exceptional ‘If’, but there you go. Had he simply run out of colour film or is that a myth?) Certainly the art here is by no means the main attraction. It has neither the attractive individuality nor subtle prowess of Andi Watson’s or Nabiel Kanan’s, but you can’t fault Fuso in his ability to drive your eyes both across and down the page.

So far I’d compare DC’s Vertigo Crime imprint to it’s Minx efforts for young teen ladies: the former can’t compare to STRAY BULLETS (currently out of print), CRIMINAL, 100 BULLETS or THE KILLER when it comes to crime, whilst everything Hope Larson has ever touched trounces the Minx line effortlessly. Both imprints have proved predominantly average, but they’ve each had a couple of stand-out gems; this for me is one of them.


Hokusai s/c (£12-99, Astral Gypsy) by Al Davison.

Dreams: illuminating, baffling, frustrating, inspiring. Few conscious imaginings can match the sheer liberation that dreaming provides, and so it is here where Davison (THE SPIRAL CAGE) utilises as many styles per sequence as he deems fit. These are personal visions so not all with come with the same level of bona fide revelation at the end that the anti-war ‘Debt Of Gratitude’ does inside. Dreams do not come with a guarantee. They do all catalyse contemplation, however, as do some of the quotations. Here’s a Japanese proverb I enjoyed:

“Vision without action is a daydream, action without vision is a nightmare.”

All bar one (‘Branches’ with its Jeremy Dennis-like first four pages) are pretty terrifying, be it the Alice In Wonderland/Gothic Lolita fusion called ‘Tea For Two’ or the spine-shiveringly ominous ‘It Will Return’ with its Muth-like photography on the last two pages.

Sleep tight, then!

“After all, we both know that daylight does not last as long as it used to.”

Introduction by Neil Gaiman.


7 Psychopaths (£7-50, Boom!) by Fabien Vehlmann & Sean Phillips.

The Special Operations Executive is open to, nay desperate for, an alternative strategy to winning the war against Nazi Germany. Many have been the attempts on Hitler’s life but one silver-haired inmate of the Bethlehem Hospital for the stark raving mad thinks the plan is still worth pursuing if those on the mission are far less predictable: those with ulterior motives or simply a deathwish. Those who think outside the box: narcissists, nobodies, and those who think the number seven holds far more significance and sway than simply being a number which amounts to, err, seven. One such is a former German officer clinically diagnosed as schizophrenic who believes Hitler is a) the Anti-Christ and b) communicating his telepathic omniscience directly into his brain. Another is an actor/impressionist. He’ll come in very handy, but not in a way you’ll anticipate, nor necessarily for whom. Not everyone is so keen to answer the call. In fact I worried about the ones who were, and it turns out I wasn’t far from wrong.

Sean CRIMINAL/SLEEPER/INCOGNITO Phillips’ art is well worth the price of admission alone. It’s as gorgeous as ever, but far cleaner than you’ll have been used to recently, perhaps because this was originally targeted at mainland Europe. I can’t see the man ever releasing a “How To…” book but if you wanted to study a single artist who might stand you in very good stead when it comes to sublime storytelling through sequential art, I can think of few others better.

As to the story, I persevered through what I initially judged to be a long-winded set up, and thank goodness I did. Many once more are the speculative fictions that have been written about attempts on Adolf’s life, but there emerges the most almighty irony towards the end that sets this book shelves apart before another one kicks in to secure its place in my smile-induced affections. No clues!


Artichoke Tales h/c (£16-99, Fantagraphics) by Megan Kelso.

Of the first three issues, Mark wrote –

Excellent epic of family, love, war and belonging. Within the two warring factions of north and south a boy falls for a girl. Duty beckons him to move on and her elders warn her that to give your heart outside of your village is foolish. I think that Kelso attempted this one in the early GIRLHERO issues but left it until she had the necessary skills to pull it off. Wise move, as each page is rich with mythology and belief in the players.

Whilst Tom recalled ~

It’s a gentle fantasy akin to CASTLE WAITING, about a community of people with Artichoke-esque hair and the tensions between the country-loving southerners with their agriculture and the bureaucratic northerners and their machines. I often find myself thinking about particular scenes, like when the young medicine woman’s apprentice is burying jars of fruit conserve, trying to fathom the reasoning behind it with a mix of laziness towards the task and passive rebellion against the previous generation. Feelings of apathy which manifest in potentially dangerous ways the moment she finds a nice young northern soldier.


Spleenal h/c (£18-99, Blank Slate) by Nigel Auchterlounie.

From the creator of (all those years ago!) SIMON CAT and DOLE SCUM. A sorry excuse for a husband, father and, frankly, human being flails about hopelessly trying to mind his kids for five seconds, dithers on the brink of adultery, then finally invents a time machine to escape the needs of a family he never wanted and create his great graphic novel. Instead he infests the planet with cacti. Also included: the adventures of Student Spleenal and Young Spleenal. He’s not much better behaved then, and you are hereby warned that this book contains scenes of a ‘testicles trapped in bike brake’ nature. Ouch. Your sense of humour needs to be on the rude if not crude side. Mark laughed long and hard at Auchterlounie’s earlier comics.


Sparky O’Hare (£4-99, Blank Slate) by Mawil.

Little pocketbook with a single, simple joke that grows cumulatively funnier so long as you laughed in the first place: an anthropomorphic hare is hired as in-house electrician for an office with but three other employees, involuntarily shorting out circuits wherever he goes. He is to electrics what Death Jr. is to pets: catastrophic. There are more electrical things in an office than you might at first surmise, and turning off your mobile phone in a plane or hospital will do you no good whatsoever!


Batman: Life After Death h/c (£14-99, DC) by Tony S. Daniel & Tony S. Daniel, Guillem March.

Reprinting BATMAN #692-699 and concluding the storyline Tony S. Daniel began back in BATTLE FOR THE COWL, this is far from self-contained. I know this because I tried reading it today and was baffled, bored and even mildly irritated, but you do finally discover who the Black Mask is.

The Black Mask, Fright, Professor Strange and Dr. Death (not the largest medical practice, I wouldn’t have thought) are holed up 100 feet below Devil’s Square, their grunts being picked off by Mario Falcone’s family. Reinforcements are required. Meanwhile Arkham Asylum’s Gene-Core project led by Dr. Singh and Dr. Jeremiah Arkham looks as if it may successfully and permanently cure mental illness using radio-wave technology, but it’s being sabotaged by young Kitrina Falcone, an escape artist who catches Catwoman’s eye. All parties plus the Penguin and Riddler are being investigated by Dick Grayson as Batman, Damian as Robin, the Huntress, Oracle and Commissioner Gordon, leading to further complications in Dick Grayson’s love life.

Daniel’s art is a lot more attractive than March’s in the separate two-parter which I confess I dropped in favour of reading another cracking instalment of Matt Fraction’s IRON MAN and a further magnificent piece of invention in Jonathan Hickman’s S.H.I.E.L.D.. Priorities, priorities…

Note: if you follow the link below, that’s not the actual cover art, curiously.

X-Men: Second Coming h/c (£29-99, Marvel) by Fraction, Yost, Kyle, Carey, Wells & Finch, Dodson, Roberson, Land, Choi.

“Hey! Summers! This is yours. You own this. Now and forever. Do you understand?
“Do. You. Understand?”

Successful sequel to X-MEN: MESSIAH COMPLEX (it successfully kept me reading, which is difficult when it comes to crossovers) in which the action runs freely through UNCANNY X-MEN, NEW MUTANTS, X-MEN LEGACY, X-FORCE and a couple of one-shots. And when I say “action”, I mean wholesale slaughter including one particularly popular X-Man biting the dust surprisingly early on. Read on a weekly basis the various artists, consistently fine, didn’t appear to jar at all.

In HOUSE OF M Wanda Maximoff, the Scarlet Witch, effectively sterilised the mutant race until finally a new mutant they named Hope was born. Convinced that, instead of being mutants’ salvation, Hope would prove to cause its destruction, Bishop tried more than once to kill the child so Cyclops dispatched the baby under Cable’s protection into the future. Since then she’s grown into a teenager while barely a year has passed here. Now they’re back, materialising in the rubble that used to be Xavier’s School For Gifted Youngsters and immediately come under attack from shock troops dispatched by the anti-mutant Human Council coalition. Cyclops is forced to split his combined resources into four leaving Utopia, their base off the coast of San Francisco, perilously vulnerable whilst one-by-one their teleporters are being taken out, as are their other means of transport. Cyclops’ orders stem from a singular priority: keeping Hope alive. With Magneto weak from the nigh-impossible task of rescuing ***** ***** from ***** in UNCANNY X-MEN, Scott’s orders – and their own determination – are going to cost them very dearly indeed.

Also included, the ominous, after-the-event prologue originally given away as a freebie, friendships destroyed after the secret of X-Force leaks out, and if my original reading of the final few pages is right – when Emma Frost catches a glimpse of something she never gets to share – then Bishop may well have been right.


X-Men: Second Coming Revelations h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Duane Swierczynski, Simon Spurrier, Chris Yost, Peter David & Steve Dillon, Paul Davidson, Harvey Tolibao, Tom Raney, Valentine De Landro.

An add-on to the main event reprinting X-MEN: HOPE set before Cable and his young charge make it back to the present, X-MEN: BLIND SCIENCE, X-MEN HELLBOUND #1-3 starring Illyana which blatantly nicks a line from Mark Millar’s ULTIMATES (it isn’t alone) and X-FACTOR #204-206.

Page 45 Reviews October 2010 week one

Friday, October 29th, 2010

Palookaville #20 h/c (£14-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Seth.

From the creator of Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month GEORGE SPROTT, another beautiful 88-page package divided into four sections: a new autobiographical account of Seth’s visit to the Calgary Festival drawn in a much looser style to his recent fiction; selections from his sketchbooks around the middle of the last decade (conversely Seth’s ‘sketches’ are like most artist’s finished pieces!) including portraits, cityscapes and one fold-out landscape; photos of the two exhibitions and tour featuring Dominion City composed of fifty fully painted three-dimensional buildings he constructed from cardboard, some of which you’ll have seen in GEORGE SPROTT itself; and the latest instalment of CLYDE FANS, the story of a failed family business manufacturing and selling fans.

It’s sobering stuff that will resonate given the implosion of the UK’s manufacturing industry including Nottingham’s own lace industry. (See Andi Watson’s BREAKFAST AFTER NOON for the same scenario over a decade ago in the Potteries.) Here Abraham Matchcard, President of the Borealis Business Machines company which produces his own Clyde Fans, sits in his office with his lawyer and reluctantly signs the papers that will declare it bankrupt. On the wall hang photographs of more prosperous times when they could afford to develop charity funds. By contrast he’s about to make every one of his employees redundant, and as Abraham drives past the picket line he’s haunted by each individual face of those he’s just passed. They’re on strike for no more than a decent, basic living wage, but the company can’t afford even that, and by tomorrow morning they will no longer have any job at all. After that Abraham’s thoughts revert to a father whose face he doesn’t even recall; a man he hated.

The exhibition of buildings would have made Mark weep with joy and admiration, sharing as he did Seth’s passion for – and much of his skill with – cardboard constructions. Each one is a unique, meticulously crafted representation of the sort of commercial property which thrived in a bygone Canadian era, and together they form an old-school city centre which Seth brings to life both in GEORGE SPROTT and his sketchbooks which detail Dominion City’s reference books, and most buildings’ history. Seth also provides a prose account of the concept’s evolution from a personal basement hobby akin to model railways to the touring exhibition complete in one location with a fully functioning, larger-scale cinema, still made from cardboard.

Finally we come to the fourteen-page autobiographical comic which I found admirably candid, perhaps even helpful to others sharing similar traits, but genuinely upsetting all the same. That someone of Seth’s remarkable talent and accomplishment should, like Chris Ware, be prone to such profound self-doubt and even self-loathing doesn’t so much surprise me as fill me with a sad sense of injustice. Largely he’s happy discovering the city landmarks, particularly an Art Deco church, but he has no confidence whatsoever in his ability to entertain or even function in conversation.

“Ben, his wife and I have lunch with some local artists. Over lunch, I begin to pick myself apart in my head. Everything I say seems shallow and stupid. “No one could actually like me,” I think to myself. However, my surface personality is so gregarious and amiable that I doubt anyone notices my suffering. In an hour, thankfully, alone again.”

Similarly, after his last night at a club…

“I say my good-byes and split. The walk back to the hotel is grim. In the room I rehash everything I’ve said tonight and rate them in levels of stupidity. I long for a hole to crawl into. Patty, a girl I will later meet in L.A., will perfectly label this process ‘The Psychic Hangover’.”

I can certainly relate to episodes of self-laceration like that, but they’re usually the morning after when endorphin levels are low, so they rarely last long especially if I’m in the company of customers soon after. Maybe they deserve to last longer, I don’t know; or maybe Seth should open a comic shop and see how well GEORGE SPROTT sells there.

Note: CLYDE FANS VOL 1 h/c @ £14-99 collects the first half of this fiction (#10-15) which is projected to run until #22. So it’s not ideal, I know, if you haven’t been buying PALOOKAVILLE #16-19 in its £2-99 floppy format, but as Seth explains during his admirably up-tempo introduction, this shift in format was pretty much inevitable if the story was going to continue to be serialised at all. Thanks in large part to the American HQ of Diamond Comic Distributors and their imposition of a minimum dollar threshold for distribution unqualified by any artistic judgement as to the material’s merits, the non-corporate comic in periodical terms is all but dead. There are some exceptions like RASL and ECHO and, of course, the lovingly handcrafted joys from the likes of Lizz Lunney et al., but for PALOOKAVILLE and co. the ACME NOVELTY LIBRARY model is the only viable option other than full-blown graphic novels now. I’d reiterate, however, that given the cleverly chosen contents you do here get quite the self-contained bang for your buck.


Fingerprints h/c (£10-99, Top Shelf) by Will Dinski.

“Culturally, a woman is what she appears to be to others. A woman’s entire ‘look’ is crucial to her success in life.”

Hey, don’t shoot the messenger; nor Will Dinski for that matter.

FINGERPRINTS is Hollywood distilled to the crassest of concentrates, and what everyone’s concentrating on are their looks. Dr. Fingers is the go-to guy for facial renovation, but each face seems to be a work perpetually in progress. When he asks his wife, “Is that what you’re wearing to the party?” you just know he’s talking about her expression and that new wrinkle round her mouth it’s only making worse. At the party itself, celebutards of all sorts – actors, directors and diamond-studded socialites – are having their work assessed by Dr. Fingers and his faithless assistant, Dr. Yumiko Tatsu, identifying its provenance as if it is was a marble bust:

“That’s Dr. Samson’s work.”
“Yeah. You can tell by the angle of the nose. Damn he’s good.”

They might as well be marble busts for their expressions are fixed by Yumiko on site: she’s brought her own Botox and she’s not afraid to use it, building up her private client list one by one. Every action or casual enquiry there is greeted with an aesthetic assessment or surgical recommendation, every move is calculated with the paparazzi in mind:

“Aren’t you afraid a photographer will see you?”
“Not so much. It would be a good story, really. ‘Vanessa Zimba: caught smoking marijuana cigarette!” Ha! I could probably start doing some edgier roles.”

But Dr. Tatsu has only just begun. She has a far more radical idea involving a D.I.Y. kit with integrated self-gratification, and the homogenisation of the High Street is about to take on a whole new meaning.

This is fantastic stuff, brilliantly extrapolated from the top-model headlines, those head-shot photos you see in hairdressers’ windows and the seemingly inexorable rise of recreational plastic surgery. To some it’s their drug of choice. It’s told in a brisk and breezy fashion in a landscape format with entire panels dedicated to dialogue forming their very own speech balloon. Don’t think this is text heavy, either. The economy is such that then words at a time is the most you’ll hear – it’s not as if anything have got anything to say!


The Green Woman h/c (£18-99, Vertigo) by Peter Straub, Michael Easton & John Bolton.

“Writers. Isn’t a writer born who doesn’t turn into a lying piece of shit the second he picks up a pen. Being good with words doesn’t exactly make you a fucking visionary, either.
“Allow me to introduce myself. I’m Fielding Bandolier. Of course, over the years I had to use some different names. Actually a lot of different names.”

For me this is the work of John Bolton’s fully painted, photorealistic career. I don’t always get on with his colour palette, but this is intense without being so dense and there are some fantastic pieces of foreshortening framed like Neal Adams used to. With one foot in the mantrap of crime, the other in the quicksand of horror, it’s also diseased and delirious, like a bad acid trip complete with subsequent flashbacks as first Fielding then Detective Bob Steele fall under the influence of the cursed Black Galleon and its Green Woman figurehead.

As Straub’s infamous serial killer, Bandolier is no stranger to death. It’s followed him from birth, and I don’t know how much of this has been detailed in the Blue Rose Trilogy prose, but his performance between Saigon and Long Binh in 1968 marked him out for a medal and flagged him for investigation by the C.I.A.. They saw right through him yet promoted the soldier anyway, giving him his very own army in Cambodia. It was there that he was married. That didn’t last long, but it’s stayed with him forever…

As the story kicks off Bob Steele and his partner are investigating a string of murders in which women as young as fifteen are being found in white dresses, marked out as virgins married to God. This and a necklace leads Steele to St. Mark’s Catholic Church where she’s identified by the priest:

“Sweet angel Rosanna Tucci, plucked from our congregation. These are trying times for men of the faith, detective. What with the, well, you know –”
“– Buggery and all.”
“– Decline in attendance. So perhaps you can empathise with my appear for discretion in this matter.”

Is there a connection between Bandolier and the church, or is it more complicated than that?

It’s more complicated than that.

Indeed it will drive Steele abroad, then drive him mad, thence into the arms of the Green Woman herself. Rarely does a book tie up all its dangling threads so satisfyingly yet so surprisingly. Not for the squeamish, by the way.

De: Tales h/c (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Fabio Moon, Gabriel Ba.

New hardcover format for what at the time were mostly new short stories from the Brazilian twins (no, I don’t know what’s going on with the surnames), some of them autobiographical, but all of them threaded with thought. A large number of them also feel as if they could have been written by Neil Gaiman.

I’m trying to pin down what I mean by that. In one it’s the unexpected day of strange romance with a girl who seems as ethereal as she is contrary; in another it’s the summoning of a deeply missed, dead friend who spends the evening with his surviving mates down at the local bar as they celebrate companionship. It’s poignant though underplayed throughout, and in particular there’s the scene in which one of the group finally tells his mate the secret he couldn’t bring himself to whilst the lad was still alive. Conversely, there’s also the three-pager in which a young man wakes up next to a beautiful girl, but chooses to lie his way out of her bed and apartment rather than hang around. But just when you’re thinking “what a scumbag,” there’s an insight which again, to me, is pure Gaiman:

“He went towards the day, missing his “boyfriend-in-love” days. It reminded him of a song he knew. “Without love, I’d be nothing.” And the boy-nothing left the girl-nothing with whom he’d had sex-nothing the previous night and spent the rest of the day thinking about love-everything.”

The only reprint that I’m aware of here, “Qu’est-ce que c’est?”, comes from the Dark Horse AUTOBIOGRAPHIX collection, and it’s well worth the inclusion as the twins, whilst in Paris, find themselves set upon by a notorious gang who prowl the Metro whilst the resident population look the other way. The physical intrusion as they’re completely overwhelmed, every pocket searched at once, is so well conveyed that you feel their panic.

“We live in a much more violent city, in Brazil… but no matter how violent it gets, it’s home. It’s where we belong. In a strange place, surrounded by strange people speaking an even stranger language, we felt alone… as the train took us back to the hostel, where no one would be waiting to know what had just happened to us.”


Sandman: The Dream Hunters s/c (£14-99, Vertigo) by Neil Gaiman & P. Craig Russell:

“I shall seek the Buddha. But first I shall seek revenge.”

The afterwords by Neil Gaiman and P. Craig Russell will tell you that SANDMAN: THE DREAM HUNTERS is actually an adaptation of an adaptation that never actually was an adaptation. Apparently, when Neil wrote the illustrated book 10 years ago he concocted a convincing back-story about an ancient Japanese folk tale which never was. How appropriate then, as Neil himself points out, that the first new SANDMAN comic for quite some years should have its roots in a fabrication; a myth, if you will. I found that little factoid quite charming!

Despite this confession however, this comic is written exactly as if it were an adaptation of a classic tale. A young monk tends his small temple while a badger and a fox strike an impish wager as to who can drive him out; the winner gaining the temple as their home. Some exuberant, over-the-top and ill-directed illusions follow but, of course, promises of riches and fame fall upon deaf ears while threats of evil and harm fare little better. The monk, serene and devout monk with peace at his centre, is wise enough to see through the glamours and even good old fashioned seduction fails to make its mark. Well, maybe it leaves a small impression… because of course folk tales are never that simple and soon a quandary arises; the fox has fallen in love with the monk and is horrified when she overhears demons plotting his demise.

This demise is to be the work of The Onmyoji; a local Yin-Yang Master and demonologist of some status in the community. Though wealthy and respected, he does not seem to indulge or flaunt. Far from being a cackling overbearing bad-guy, the Onmyoji actually lives a life strictured by a quiet fear which stalks him through his waking hours and through his dreams. What the monk cultivates at his centre – calmness and peace – the Onmyoji lacks, and it is this peace which he pursues through his ever-growing knowledge of demonology. The Yin-Yang theme is not hard to spot here; a restless, neurotic spirit contrasted with a disciplined mind. Added to this is a Shakespearean theme, as the Onmyoji consults with three witches who, of course, tell him what he wants to hear whilst leaving all the caveats unsaid. They inform the Onmyoji that he may banish the fear which shadows him by sacrificing the life of a young monk. These plans are never simple though, are they? The monk must not die by violence or in pain, he must simply slip out of this world… as if into a dream. And so it is that the smitten fox learns that to save the monk from his fate she must intervene not in the real world but in the realm of dreams.

The art is, of course, extremely pretty as you would expect from P. Craig Russell. It is also subtle and clever; the changes in the foliage behind the fox as she gazes at the monk; the tapestry behind the Dream King, morphing as he speaks; an owl catching a mouse in its beak just as the Sandman catches the monk in a half-truth about his feelings for the fox; the demise of the monks father, captured in a single picture, the elements of the panel seamlessly translating the narrator’s words. The influences Russell speaks about in his afterword are clear to see, as flame, waters, wind and cloud are rendered in woodcut-style swirls and the leaves and trees (which I am a sucker for anyway) are gorgeous. There is some lovely use of iconic Sandman imagery too. When the fox enters the realm of dreams and then meets the Dream King in fox form we know it is him by the arrangement of stars contained within his eyes (not to mention those cool, white-on-black blobule speech bubbles he gets to speak in). The sequences in the Sandman’s realm flow well, capturing the peculiar, non-linear flow and distorted sense of boundaries of a dreamscape. Even Russell’s Disney influence comes through with the fox and the badger being anthropomorphised; not in a HEPCATS or Antarctic Press way but rather through their expressive eyes and faces. It may sound like an odd combination but it works well. The colouring (by Lovern Kindzierski) is sympathetic, delicate and well conceived; bold when it needs to be, light and spacious at other times; and so overall the art holds the multiple themes and influences of the story together, bringing the tale to life in pictures.

Regardless of the source-material-shenanigans, THE DREAM HUNTERS is an adaptation of what is intended to be a folk tale in the traditional Japanese style and, for me, this is where it hits its limitations. This is purely a matter of personal taste on my part but I have never been overly keen on the narrator’s voice device, particularly when it persists throughout a whole piece. I find the constant breaking back into “And so this happened, and afterwards that” jarring and, particularly in comics, limiting. Though (as you would expect from a writer as good as Neil Gaiman) the timing and pacing of the book are good, I found I could not quite relax because I was always waiting for the next part of the tale to be doled out. For me that broke, or rather set too rigidly, the rhythm of the story. It’s a comic, I don’t need to be told that something has been done quickly, or causes sorrow or happiness; that is what the pictures are there to communicate and, to me, that is one of the great joys of the medium. With an artist as good as Russell there is no shortage of nuance or expression and I do wish sometimes that he had been left to draw the story without the exposition over the top.

Perhaps in this though I am missing the point. DREAM HUNTERS is presented as an adaptation of a folk tale, blending the modern mythology of the Sandman into the ancient mythology and style of Japanese folklore; it does this well and is very easy on the eye to boot. It’s just a little bit too predictable for me, bounded as it is by the conventions of its chosen style. As the first new Neil Gaiman SANDMAN comic for many a long year we may have liked something more open-ended, less restricted; however I did find much to enjoy here, even if the style was not completely my cup of tea.


xkcd vol 0 (£13-50, Breadpig) by Randall Munroe.

“π [pi] = 3.14159265358979helpimtrappedinauniversefactory7108914…”

Another of those web strips we’ve been asked about, this one written and drawn by an ex-NASA scientist, hence the maths, physics, pie-charts and circuit boards. Also stick figures. He’s not exactly Matt Feazell (that’d be Matt Feazell) but I laughed all the same.

There’s a sequence in which a man pulls a lever, is struck by lightning and, frazzled, stares at the lever again. The sequence then splits into two: normal person stepping well back (“I guess I shouldn’t do that”) and scientist reaching once more for the lever (“I wonder if that happens every time?”).

There’s also a chart in which various disciplines are arranged according to their increasing purity, beginning with sociologists. Psychologists: “Sociology is just applied psychology.” Biologists: “Psychology is just applied biology.” Chemists: “Biology is just applied chemistry.” Physicists: “Which is just applied physics. It’s nice to be on top.” Mathematicians: “Oh, hey, I didn’t see you guys all the way over there.”

Underneath Randall concedes, “On the other hand, physicists like to say physics is to math as sex is to masturbation”.

Book includes secret codes and puzzles.


Four Colour Fear: Forgotten Horror Comics Of The 1950s (£22-50, Fantagraphics) by various including Al Williamson, Joe Kubert, Basil Wolverton, Wallace Wood, Jack Cole and edited by Greg Sadowski.

“Lovely Spring night, Holland! And those young lovers yonder – makes me – <sigh> think of my own youth!”
“Lovers! Bah! Love is all nonsense! A delusion! You know my theories, Rigby! The will to live, to survive, is the strongest emotion of all human emotions! Stronger even than love! But I have an idea – come…”
“(A queer little duck, Holland! I feel terribly sorry for him! But he’s bitter, hates love and lovers because he is so grotesque and deformed! Sometimes I wonder if he’s quite sane!)”

Welcome back, my dearies, to a time when EC under Bill Gaines ruled the nocturnal newsstands with VAULT OF HORROR and TALES FROM THE CRYPT! When the only punctuation marks were commas, dashes and exclamation marks! Oh, but EC accounted for less than 10% of that grisly, gruesome market, and here you’ll find exhumed more monsters and maniacs – both in the case of the perverse professor above who, in his determination to prove his point, persuades a couple to spend a month in a cage so they can buy a new settee, then starves them half to death! Then he does the same to his overly critical colleague (take note!)!

But perhaps his point is proved earlier by Wally Wood in The Thing From The Sea in which one sailor wins half the wages of another by tossing dice, then tosses the loser overboard! By chance he meets his former colleague’s fiancée on the docks, tells her she’s no longer engaged then takes her straight out for dinner and a dance!

“Let yourself go, baby!”
“I’m having so much fun!”

But Eddie didn’t die on the ocean floor! No! And – fish nibbling at his nethers – he’s making his way to shore!

“No… no… no! I’ll give you back your money… I won’t see Helen ever again… Just let me go… Let me go…”
“I don’t care about money anymore! I’ve forgotten Helen, too! All I want is you, Johnny… on the bottom of the sea!”

These must be the oddest couples ever. One hen-pecked husband throws his wife under a train – or at least thinks he does – whilst another penned by Al Williamson invites his gal for their honeymoon to the castle he’s restored. And he does mean restored, not renovated. There’s no electricity, no indoor plumbing… just an old crone he found wandering the ruins and never thought to re-house.

“Good heavens, Bud — I thought she was a ghost! I’ve never seen anyone so positively ancient!”

I really don’t know why I keep feeding you straight lines like that.

This is from The Flapping Head and it’s not long before the flapping head appears complete with fangs and bat wings to make off with the bones of a skeleton the old woman was trying to keep buried, but which our witless wonders have disinterred from a blocked vault no one had thought to tidy up before putting a roof back on the castle. A few swift additions to vampire lore later and we learn exactly what happened one hundred years ago and see history repeat itself with a twist.

It’s all quite insane, as is the gallery of glossy covers in the middle, variations upon which abound and suddenly I’m rather scared to go to the dentist on Wednesday.


VerityFair #1 (£2-99, IDCM) by Terry Wiley.

SLEAZE CASTLE – that’s where you know the name from. Well, that’s probably where you know the name from; for all I know you’re one his neighbours embroiled in litigation. Mad as a bag of spiders, our Terry, as is this bit-part character actress Verity Bourneville (stage name), whose own agency was burned to the ground and who’s only just ditched the fishmonger’s to get back in the saddle again. One successful audition later, and a night on London taahn is most definitely required complete with friends, relatives and anyone else who thinks they can handle her. They can’t, but they can try. They’ll need to ladle her into that taxi. I wouldn’t have Verity on my books – she’s way too much in every respect – but she can certainly act. In fact her whole life’s an act, and the last few pages will cast one hell of a shadow over what comes before.

Terry excels on cartoon hyperactivity, and they don’t come more cartoonish than ‘Verity’ or indeed VERITYFAIR. It makes me slightly queasy, personally, all the “fick as a pig’s ‘ead an all”, and I certainly couldn’t stomach a night on the town with the woman, but the storytelling is pretty damn flawless in spite of the photographic, computerised backgrounds which, with a couple of exceptions, work almost as well here as they did in ALICE IN SUNDERLAND. It’s just lovely to see Terry back in the saddle, and in full colour.

Deadpool MAX #1 (£2-99, Marvel) by David Lapham & Kyle Baker.

Not one for the younger readers, no.

The creator of STRAY BULLETS and SILVERFISH joins forces with that of WHY I HATE SATURN and SPECIAL FORCES for something akin to Christopher Priest’s BLACK PANTHER: THE CLIENT and BLACK PANTHER: ENEMY OF THE STATE as Special Agent Bob checks in with his superiors over Operation Deadhead, which he was ordered to undertake in spite of his grave reservations regarding fellow field operative Deadpool. The aim was to assassinate Maggia boss Hammerhead by stealth and infiltration. Bob would infiltrate the bed of Bruno, whilst Deadpool… Deadpool can’t keep his trap shut for more than four seconds, so stealth was never going to happen. All of Bob’s hard knocks (Bruno’s a sadist) and creativity (the staff uniforms in Hammerhead’s tower consist of little more than a g-string or posing pouch to avoid concealing anything on their person, so copying the key to Hammerhead’s suite required a certain degree of lateral thinking) appear to lie in pieces – pieces of Deadpool’s corpse, as it happens – because of Deadpool’s reckless grandstanding and a craving for toasted crumpets, but this is a series not a one-shot so how do they get out of that?

This is Kyle Baker so the brutality in this Marvel MAX comic is actually more akin to cartoon violence than its myriad other series. The MAX label instead is used for the nudity, sex and the sexual content of the dialogue which isn’t a patch on Priest’s, I’m afraid, but still infinitely preferable to anything else I’ve read in association with this character.

Ultimate Comics Thor #1 (£2-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman & Carlos Pacheco.

“And you must be the man they have sent to help me. You’re a doctor of psychiatry, I presume?”
“Among other things.”
“Then be forewarned. It is not a delusion of madness you’ll find here, doctor, but purpose and destiny. Professor Braddock will have told you that I am Thorlief Golmen — this is incorrect. I am Thor, God of Thunder, and I will be called the name my father gave me.”
“Of course, and I am only here to help you, Thor. Why don’t you tell me how I can do that?”
“May I have your pen? This one is almost empty and I’m almost finished.”
“Certainly. It looks incomplete.”
“It’s all I can remember.”
“A rather ominous place to leave off, don’t you think?”
“You can read this?”
“I can.”
“Then do so.”
“‘There is a storm coming.'”
“Yes… Yes, there is.”

Nice touch that, having Dr. Donald Blake translate the sequence of the Norse Poetic Edda written on the observation room’s floor. It allows that final extra line of quiet and genuinely concerned worry perfectly in keeping with Mark Millar’s version of Thor. Now, why is it that we don’t get a proper look at Dr. Donald Blake’s face, do you think? In the regular Marvel universe Dr. Donald Blake is the tag-team partner to Thor, exchanging places with a tap of the cane or a smash of the hammer Mjolnir. But the Ultimate Universe is renowned for its sly departures and I somehow suspect this will be one of them, especially since it’s written by the creator of THE NIGHTLY NEWS and the author of Marvel’s most original book in years, the current series of S.H.I.E.L.D..

Set in Germany 1939, Asgard a great deal earlier than that, and the Dome of the European Super-Soldier Initiative, Brussels (as seen in Mark Millar’s ULTIMATES Seasons one and two, presumably immediately prior to them), it’s evidently going to involve Mjolnir, and follows the pursuit of mystic weaponry in service to the Fuhrer by plundering Asgard. Baron Zemo has been assigned one hundred thousand men by Reichsfurher Himmler, found a gateway near Niebull to any of the Seven Realms and the twenty-four sacred runes which will, if correctly partnered, activate various sequences of the legendary Rainbow Bridge. The Aesir sequence, for example, is how they’ll reach Asgard but first another, lower sequence will dramatically improve their chances of success…

That final page will explain the opening sequence as Asgard lies in ruins and the World Tree burns, but how it will all tie in with Brussels we don’t yet know. The Poetic Edda’s the key given Baron Zemo shares that knowledge. Anyway, excellent, and Pacheco rarely lets one down so as you can imagine it’s very attractive too. Particularly enjoyed the resurrection of the stone circle near Niebull, and the early appearance of the Schutzstaffel symbol amongst the ancient runes.

CBLDF Presents: Liberty Annual 2010 (£3-50, Image) by Evan Dorkin, Garth Ennis, Paul Pope, Frank Miller, Don Simpson etc.

Another book to benefit the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, an organisation so vital in its fight against censorship and defend comic shops or creators under litigation from opportunist politicians and a puppet police force that it’s the only time I will misspell ‘defence’ in American and allow the words comic and book to be separated in a sentence written by Page 45.

Be warned that some artists contribute posters only, but there’s a new short BOYS story by Ennis, and the first MILK & CHEESE story in many, many moons is almost worth the price of admission alone. ‘CBLDF-U’ is a tale so intense it killed 3 proof-readers:

“The whole thing gets my dander up! And I don’t even know what my dander is!”
“Neither do I! But so what? So big hair what? It’s up! That’s all we have to know!”
“And knowing is half the battle!”
“The other half is kicking the living shit out of the enemy! POW!”

I love Milk And Cheese. “Educating America one moron at a time”.

 – Stephen

Punctuality & Bite-Sized Upgrades!

Thursday, October 28th, 2010

Right, now we’ve all settled virtually in, two upgrades already.

From now on we’ll be posting reviews in this section on a weekly basis, give or take a holiday.

(On the other hand Jonathan is threatening to buy me a laptop for that unlikely eventuality so I can write from the beaches I’m never allowed near, the seas I never get to swim in, or the boulevard cafés I used to enjoy people-watching from before I was chained to this monthly merry-go-round of review, preview, order and blog. Yeah, well you’ll have to fly me out to that Italian villa of yours first, mate. I notice no reviews come in from your weekends there!)

That means two things: you get to read them as soon as they’re written (with links to each book after the reviews so you can see the front cover or interior art), and they’re dropped down to accessible, bit-sized pieces.

I think you’ll be happier with that.

I’ve been reviewing the books on a weekly basis all month, but couldn’t post them before because blogs go out on our Twitter and it would have given the website’s hidden address away before we came out of the comicbook closet. So this time they’re all going to come up on the site during the next couple of nights. In future, it will be weekly. Or weakly. Everyone’s a critic.

Speaking of critics, here’s your key to who writes what in case you don’t want to follow the links to the individual books in our shopping area:

If there’s a full stop (.) after the creator credits then it’s written by me because I actually went to school and understand punctuation.

If there’s a dash (-) then I rescued the review from Mark’s unparalleled wealth of informed and eloquent genius.

If there’s an ellipsis (…) then in all fairness, on balance, and at the end of the day, Jonathan reviewed it.

If there’s a squiggle (~) then our Tom has had three cups of tea and is telling you the score. I’d listen if I were you.

Other than that, guest-reviewers will usually be credited at the end of each section, and unless stated otherwise the Page 45 monthly previews are, I’m afraid, the province of myself. I know it’s a dirty job but someone’s got to do it.

Please feel free to visit the Page 45 News section on a weekly basis, but if your memory is half as bad as mine and you want to be reminded to visit the website for our reviews and previews on a monthly basis, just – oh, Christ, what were you supposed to do…? Oh yes – just sign up here and we’ll act accordingly!

Big love,

– Stephen

Welcome, Welcome, Welcome!

Wednesday, October 20th, 2010

Hello, hello, and welcome on board!

It’s taken us 18 months to get our website up, running and partially populated.

By “partially” I don’t think you’ll be disappointed with what you find right now: thousands of quality graphic novels to buy at the click of a button, and thousands of reviews for those same graphic novels culled from fifteen years of Page 45 Mailshots and printed Recommended Reading lists. I can’t tell you what a joy it is to see those reviews now used more than once, here on the website to be read and disdained for as long as we both shall live.

Page 45 has always been a passionate, fiercely independent comicbook retailer, and it’s always been a matter of pride to us that we don’t simply regurgitate the publishers’ hype, but assess the works we love for ourselves and be honest when we find creativity lacking. You won’t always agree with us which is why we’ve made room underneath each review for your own input, but I can hand-on-heart assure you that in over fifteen years we have never tried to flog a work we do not believe in because so much of our custom has depended on customers returning: on building a sense of trust so that someone comes back and says, “I loved the book that you just recommended, so where do I go from here?”

There’s been so little information that’s reliable or accessible to someone discovering this medium for the first time that we’ve always made ourselves available on the shop floor for an extemporised review or two targeted to each individual’s personal interests be they political, autobiographical, travel, humour, speculative fiction, crime or just plain crazy.

Here we’re hoping to replicate the shop-floor experience of visiting us in person as faithfully as possible. To that end you can browse by yourselves using the categories we’ve selected (more on that in a blog coming soon), or by using our search engine for creators and titles you may already be aware of and just want to explore. Or you can see where our own hearts lie by investigating what’s Always Recommended, or what we have chosen as the pinnacle of excellence each month as part of our Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month Club.

If, however, you want a more hands-on experience, the equivalent of asking us for personal recommendations on the shop floor is to use that panel on the front page, and indeed every page of the store, called Want A Recommendation? It’s beautifully illustrated like the rest of this website by one of our all-time favourite comicbook creators, Nabiel Kanan, and I can assure you that it won’t be answered by a robot, but by one of us.

I can also assure you that there is far more material to come.

I don’t mean that there’s far more material to be written – although I intend doing plenty of that too – but that I have dozens of files of extra Fun & Resources already waiting to be edited into shape just like the reviews. Stuff we’ve written before that could prove useful for new comicbook creators, vital for students writing their dissertations, and pure entertainment for those of you with a Charlie Brooker mean streak.

But there comes a point after 18 months when you just need to launch.

If you want to be kept up to date on that new material, then please sign up to these blogs. If you want to be kept up to date on creator signings and the latest comicbook news, please sign up to these blogs. If you simply want to appease my ego and read what you’ve all written to us, then please check into these blogs regularly or even subscribe to the Page 45 Blog Feed. One of the most popular features of our Page 45 Mailshots has always been its letter column in which I’m a wee bit naughty with an attitude entirely made up for entertainment purposes. It’ll be shifting to these blogs.

Hope you approve, let us know what you think.


– Stephen

September 2010 Reviews

Wednesday, October 20th, 2010

Like Marlow, Conrad was in for a brutal awakening. For by then the high ideals of exploration had turned into unrestrained exploitation, “a rapacious and pitiless folly”, pillaging the Congo of its ivory in the name of Belgium’s King Leopold II, and subjugating its so-called savage inhabitants with a barbarity which Conrad himself called “the vilest scramble for loot that ever disfigured the history of human conscience and geographical exploration” (‘Geography And Some Explorers’).

– Stephen on Joseph Conrad’s Heart Of Darkness. Adaptation below.

new books


Psychiatric Tales (£11-99, Blank Slate) by Darryl Cunningham. COMICBOOK OF THE MONTH CLUB MEMBERS: £9-60

It’s by no means a common experience, but there are some books one starts bursting to write about a mere twenty pages in. PSYCHIATRIC TALES is one of those: a book of such instinctive, level-headed compassion, communication and education which nearly never saw completion on account of the creator’s own deteriorating mental health. A childhood riddled with self-loathing only grew worse in adulthood as Cunningham withdrew at the very time he most craved connection. It was his artistic talent that finally gave him a sense of belonging, whilst his desire to understand his own condition and his natural empathy for others, so clearly evidenced here, led him into work as a health care assistant before training as a student to qualify as a mental health nurse.

“And this is when I overreached myself. This is when I broke.”

After reading the book you will easily comprehend why. It’s no easy job for the sturdiest of individuals but for someone as vulnerable and sympathetic as Darryl, well, it was going to get to him eventually.

The book isn’t about Darryl, though: the preceding pages detail his experiences on the ward and what he learned about various debilitating mental conditions as a result. The very opposite of sensationalist, its measured contents will undoubtedly still prove affecting for there can be few of us who haven’t come into contact with mental illness: schizophrenia with its attendant paranoia and hallucinations; bipolar disorder with its peaks and troughs and compulsion to communicate everything at once; violent anti-social personality disorders; the dementia of Alzheimer’s – the disorientation and delusion and reversion to an earlier period in life; self-harming from anger, self-loathing and a desperation to assert any sort of control even if it involves physical pain as a distraction from the mental anguish; suicide.

Each condition is explained through personal observation and with an education that enables Cunningham to detail current treatments, rebalancing the brain’s chemicals whilst providing the most efficacious environment wherever possible. And without meaning to alarm you, Darryl correctly places an emphasis on one particular truth: it can happen to anyone at any time.

At school the brother of my best friend suddenly started pronouncing himself to be the Second Coming and appointed disciples. I’ve met several self-harmers and known them for years. I know at least one bi-polar, my grandmother slid away from us under Alzheimer’s, someone very close to me is suffering with acute depression and, I guess, most disturbingly of all, a young man I thought brilliant and charming abruptly became barely coherent, violent (he tried to kill his mother and girlfriend) and – because he’d already been misdiagnosed as having a mere behavioural disorder – it took his parents a whole year of research and fighting to get the man properly diagnosed with Cannabis Psychosis and therefore properly treated. I recognise everything I read here. It’s spot-on, including the patient’s delusion, post-recovery, that sustained medication is no longer necessary.

As to the artwork, it’s deceptively simple just like Satrapi’s in PERSEPOLIS for maximum empathy, black shadows casting faces into silhouette, a warning of potential bleak, black moods. It’s the perfect balance between word and picture, so as sequential art it reads like a dream. Or a nightmare.

“The effects of suicide ripple outward. Damaging family, friends and strangers alike. A suicide will leave an average of six people immediately affected by the death. A parent, a significant other, a sibling, or a child of the deceased person. The people are referred to as the survivors. These are the ones left to suffer. Never knowing why, always wondering if he could have done more.”


The Wild Kingdom h/c (£14-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Kevin Huizenga.

“This book messes with your head so beautifully you would think you were married to it.”

 – Tom in his preview

From the creator of Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month CURSES.

One of the aspects of Huizenga’s work that often escapes discussion is that he’s so very funny. Whether it’s the clip-‘em-and-collect-’em spotters’ guides (“BEETLE. ‘Black Night’ Dangerous. Unite to form Devastator. There is no you. Attaches to eyeballs”) or the hilariously over-extended saga of the pigeon in the road who (flashback!) stopped to gorge itself on stomach-cramping chips only to find his dizziness leading to disaster.

This is the Wild Kingdom of nature at uneasy home in suburbia, and everyman Glenn Ganges uneasy with everything. His house plants are dead, his apples are rotten, and bugs bite him at night. It’s a series of short stories and features that reprise them. The diagrams and glossaries put one in mind of Chris Ware, especially since it’s one enormous mid-life crisis of bewilderment and anxiety, and a futile attempt to stave them off with labels that lie and the reassuring promises made by advertisements for the latest Hot New Thing. They flash before us day after day in a mind-numbing, epilepsy-inducing stroboscope of more things to worry about not possessing yourself. You need this product, on SALE now! Hurry while stocks last!

“Do you suffer from any of these symptoms: coughing, sleeplessness, nausea, bad credit (‘Sigh… Is it that obvious?’) or no credit? Hay fever, chest pains, wrinkles, fat droopy jowls, nausea?
“Well now there’s Hope for people ages 30-83. (‘I can breathe again.’)
“Ask your doctor for more information. See our ad in The Comics Journal.
“Side effects may vary: difficulty breathing, heart attack, nausea, angst, Schadenfreude, rabies, reactionary politics, or shyness.”

Meanwhile the Famous Ghost (long-forgotten Belgian symbolist playwright and semi-philosophical essayist) recalls his former triumphs musing on religion, fate, and “nature’s great and terrible puzzles” in a series of books like The Life Of The Bee (1901), The Life Of The White Ant (1927) and Pigeons And Spiders (1936).

“They might strike an early 21st Century reader as eccentric popular science written by an elegant depressive, as well as funny, insofar as one might find endless, misguided metaphysical digressions of Eeyore-like negativity funny. All my books are out of print.”

The book culminates emphatically in a single minor interface between nature and science (our previously identified pigeon and an overhead electricity wire) that leads to an Armageddon whose elegantly choreographed escalation had me weeping with laughter.

We’re doomed! (Although you could try Prozac Extra Palliative – the H.N.T. with 45% extra What Planet Am I On?)


Cuba: My Revolution h/c (£18-99, Vertigo) by Inverna Lockpez & Dean Haspiel…

CUBA: MY REVOLUTION presents to us the story of Sonya, a young idealist and firm supporter of Castro and his Marxist revolution which took place in Cuba in the late ’50s and still isolates the country today; although many people might actually point out with some validity that’s really down to successive American governments rather than Castro himself.

Still, Dean Haspiel, illustrator of THE ALCOHOLIC personally asked Inverna Lockpez to write this work which is clearly at least semi-autobiographical, and equally clearly a topic close to Haspiel’s heart. It’s easy to see from Sonya’s naively youthful perspective how many Cubans genuinely believed the deposing of the American puppet leader President Batista by Castro and his guerrillas would usher in a new golden age for Cuba, one from which all of its citizens would benefit, not just the wealthy upper classes holding sway on the island at that time. And in doing so it also neatly illustrates how markedly differences in opinions on that subject were held within the same households, much like Jason Lutes’ BERLIN shows how supporters of the diametrically opposing factions of Communism and Nationalism in pre-Nazi Germany could live literally side by side, at least until the violence and chaos really began.

By exploring from a wholly Cuban perspective what was occurring at a social level immediately before and after Castro’s takeover, including world-shaking events like the Bay of Pigs invasion and Cuban Missile Crisis, we gain a remarkable insight into what life was really like for the people of a hitherto relatively insignificant island. A people suddenly and unexpectedly finding themselves at the absolute epicentre of the geo-political turmoil and posturing that was festering between America and Russia at the time.

Set in particular against the backdrop of Cuba’s artistic community, from whom so many had such high hopes initially for the Castro regime, it’s a sobering exploration and explanation of how something which started with such good intentions could gradually but inexorably turn into something entirely darker. And given what Sonya goes through, it’s surprising her belief in Castro’s regime isn’t wrecked sooner; instead that finally comes when her heart is broken with the return of her first love who had fled Cuba to escape the previous regime. They’d talked passionately about their belief in Castro and what he could do for Cuba should he manage to grasp power, so when instead she finds her love fighting alongside those now trying to depose Castro, it causes her to finally stop and question everything she’d always believed.

Wonderful storytelling from Lockpez, desperately unsettling and upsetting at times, and who given it’s her first work really grows into her own narrative style as the work progresses, and of course lovingly and touchingly illustrated by Haspiel who above anything else captures the passion of the Cuban people for their country.


Cages s/c (£22-50, Dark Horse) by Dave McKean.

In the same block of rented flats we find an artist terrified by his blank canvas, a woman waiting for her husband to return, an author and his wife who seem to stand back as sinister men remove treasured possessions, a black cat, a dreadlocked jazzman/philosopher with stones that sing, and a batty old trout in desperate need of a fully functioning hearing aid. Here she is taking the artist upstairs to his room:

Supper’s up, Mrs. Featherskill. That’s our Mrs. Featherskill. Lovely woman. Plain and lovely. We’re all plain and lovely here, dear.”
“That’s… that’s…”
“Oh yes, have my cases arrived yet?”
“Your stuff arrived last night, dear.”
“Has it?”
“My cases… arrived.”
“That’s what I said. Do pay attention, dear. I’ve only got one lung…. Here we are then, dear. I’ve got the thingy here somewhere. Now, let’s see. Mr. Easel, isn’t it?”
“It’s a month in advance, less deposit.”
“My names Sabarsky. Leo Sabarsky.”
“My name. Sabarsky.”
“Well, where’s Mr. Easel, then?”
“I think that’s the description of the…”
“Look, I’ve got a room for a Mr. Easel. I can’t let anybody in.”
“I think, look… that’s me there.”
“If you’re not who you’re supposed to be, well, that’s no good, is it? We can’t go around not being the right people, otherwise, well, what’s life all about anyway?”
“It’s okay, that’s me there.”
“”Mr. Sabarsky.” So who’s this, then?”
“That says “Master Easel”. This is the same docket I filled out for the removals people. Master Easel, six packing cases, chest of draws, dum-de-dum, see? Master Easel…”
“It’s a big easel.”
“I paint.”
“… Well… I suppose that’s all right, then. But if Mr. Easel wants his room, it’s be your liability.”

As these disparate stories converge, the nature of the cages in question becomes clearer, and we move inexorably towards a violent, full-colour climax.

The finest work of McKean’s career, the storytelling is reminiscent of Gaiman, Dave Sim and, at times, Alan Bennett. Unlike McKean’s busier works using sculpture and collage, this is far sleeker. The blacks are luscious, the pen line sharp and the grey-blues beautiful; juxtapositions and overlays are cleverly positioned so that, as Terry Gilliam says, this massive, album-sized work becomes “mesmerising”. Nearly 500-pages long, with impeccable reproduction values, this is insane value for money. Also, please note: Dark Horse books like BLACKSAD and BEASTS OF BURDEN have recently been going straight out of print within a fortnight – no exaggeration.


Lucky In Love: A Poor Man’s History vol 1 h/c of 2 (£14-99, Fantagraphics) by George Chieffet & Stephen DeStephano.

“I was having a dream.”
“When aren’t you?”
“I had hair.”

Lucky is an old man now, dozing in front the TV and dreaming of spectacular space battles and glamorous celebrations on elaborate staircases reminiscent of Hollywood musicals. But back in 1942 he was fifteen and five-foot-three (“the tallest I ever was”), best friends with Little Italy’s tough guy Babe, hotwiring his Dad’s bakery van at night, watching cowboy movies, starting to date girls, worrying his Ma and arguing with his friends about whether to enlist in the navy or air corps.

“If a ship sinks, you gotta swim to shore.”
“I don’t swim so good myself.”
“Well, shrimp, I don’t fly so good myself.”
“Lay off that shrimp stuff!”

In the end he couldn’t pass the test so Lucky never got to Flight School; he never got to fly, but became an air corps mechanic instead, and pretty low down the ladder at that. Little Italy’s Morrie Veingarten got to fly, in the Jenna Potter which Lucky serviced himself. But early on Morrie’s plane went down over the Pacific, leaving Lucky haunted by what might have happened. What might have happened to Morrie, and whether Lucky’s work on the plane was at fault. Then other veterans began to return from the likes of Iwo Jima, crippled, blind or disfigured:

“That guy’s face all bandaged up and the bullet hole where there should have been an eye was tough to look at. Sure, I was pretty safe in Honolulu, but I thought about getting killed, or losing an eye, like I thought about sex all the time.” 

Lucky might have been fixated on sex, but he was inexperienced. Inexperienced and small, all bluff and bluster, and easily caught out. That’s the problem with lies: they need to be constantly backed up, reinforced, evaded. And so after discharge Lucky returns to New Jersey but it doesn’t feel right. Nothing has changed, only him. And he’s hailed as a hero, though he knows that he wasn’t. He knows he was nothing of the kind.

I loved this book. It reminded me of Eisner. Partly it was the period with its discrimination, here seen from an Italian’s point of view, that voiced itself in flagrant racism, and also the emphasis on climbing the ladder:

“Amounting to something – that’s all anyone talked about back then – money, marriage and mortgage.”

But it’s also the voice. A different narrative voice with a different dialect, to be sure, but one equally as assured: I could hear the accent in my head. It doesn’t skimp on the language, either, and the creators feel the need to apologise in advance for the ethnic slurs. That’s how it was; that’s how it should be told.

As to the art, apparently DeStephano began his career on the Ren And Stimpy Show, but apart from the immaculate storytelling, I’d never have guessed. Here his influences are far older, and ASTERIOS POLYP’s David Mazzucchelli comments that his “agile cartooning evokes the seeming simplicity of an earlier time, yet LUCKY reads like the story that was really going on behind the heroism and glamour of the ‘golden age’ strips.”

Proper Go Well High h/c (£14-99, Blank Slate) by Oliver East…

“Right, let’s go.
“I start the walk from the elevated platforms 13 & 14, safe in the assumption there’s no prostitutes out at this hour so I can walk where I please.
“I try to keep the tracks to my left as it’ll give me an excuse to draw some of my favourite buildings, such as the old fire station and U.M.I.S.T.
“Moving on, I vaguely chastise myself for being disappointed that there are no tramps under the arches between Sackville Street and Princess Street.
“It’s a good thing no one’s sleeping there.
“Good for them.
“They would have been nice to draw though.
“I feel shame’s hand pulling me on.”

More TRAINS ARE… MINT travelogue-cum-stream of consciousness adventuring from Oliver East as he meanders alongside the train tracks from Manchester to Liverpool. Whether he’s analysing architecture, thinking about odd presents he received from his dad as a child, or mentally calculating the (unlikely) odds of being sexually molested on a particularly lonely footbridge, he’s always sketching inside his mind. Capturing the landscape and the passer-by, and then punctuating the artwork with his very own unique brand of social commentary, often at the expense of the typically northern English characters he meets along the way. He’s not trying to see the world, or seek out new civilisations, but instead he’s just content to ably show us what beauty and bizarreness, urban and natural, there is all around us, rather nearer than we think if we just put on our shoes and start walking. As before the art is rendered from memory in inks and watercolour in his own delightfully abstract style. Detail isn’t necessarily important, although there’s plenty of it, but capturing the feel of a location and the mood of a moment of interaction is key. But what legacy will Oliver leave behind, as a human being and a graphic novelist? I’ll leave the last word to Oliver…

“You tell some people you do comics and they give you a look.
“It’s like you’ve just told them you’ve got AIDS, like, ‘oh dear, well, we’re here if you need us.’”
“Or you’ve just done a nasty hangover fart, like, ‘oh really, did you have to?’”
“I’d be lying if I said it didn’t matter what people thought.
“But when I die and they find a load of unsold books under my bed, and I’m recognised as the genius of the form I was…
“Then you’ll see.

[Editor’s note: some of this material was originally presented in TRAINS ARE.. MINT #5, Page 45’s Comicbook Of The Month May 2008.]


Berlin And That h/c (£14-99, Blank Slate) by Oliver East and many random and various contributors…

Oliver East’s third TRAINS ARE… MINT book sees him venturing a little farther afield this time, taking a stroll from Berlin’s Alexanderplatz to Frankfurt near the Polish border, all the while of course keeping as close to the train tracks as he possibly can. As with his two previous works it’s the journey that’s important though, not the ultimate destination. The main difference for this particular book is that Oliver gave one finished page of artwork each to various friends, artists, non-artists, musicians and “pro-drinkers” and asked them to alter the pages exactly as they wanted. The results are intriguing, as much for what people have chosen to alter, as the manner in which they’ve chosen to do it. Oliver’s artwork still carries the story strongly though, and typically the alterations are mere embellishments, and in any event account for about a third of the pages of the book. And as ever, it’s Oliver’s social commentary on the people he stumbles across, and the random autobiographical asides that will tickle you and keep you chuckling.


Stitches s/c (£11-99, Norton) by David Small.

“When you have no voice, you don’t exist.”

David Small is no novice: an illustrator with dozens of awards under his belt, he is an irrefutably successful artist with such immaculate ink washes over the most supple lines that it’s no surprise to find Jules Feiffer amongst many singing his praises. But he had one of the most wretched childhoods imaginable, and this is that childhood laid bare, under the constant threat of a mother “coiled tight inside her shell of angry, resentful silence”.

The ironies abound, not least that it is your mother and father above all others that you should be able to rely on to protect you. That his father was doctor, a healer of others, is another. But to discover that it was his father who caused Small’s cancer and his mother who refused to endorse the cost of surgery to correct their neglect for three and a half years after its diagnosis as a cyst in favour of a spending spree on household appliances and parties… It should come as no surprise, then, to learn that it took a friend of the family to point out the growth on David’s neck in the first place. They simply hadn’t noticed because they simply didn’t care. David was born with sinuses and a digestive system that didn’t work properly.

“However, Dad was a doctor. He knew what to do. Dad prescribed the medicines for my frequent bouts with this and that. Dad gave me shots. And enemas. Dad put me on his treatment table and ‘cracked my neck’, our family nickname for the osteopathic manipulations he had learned in medical school. And it was Dad the radiologist who gave me the many X-rays that were supposed to cure my sinus problems… To me, Dad and his colleagues seemed like the heroic men featured in the ads in Life Magazine, marching bravely into the bright and shining future. They were soldiers of science, and their weapon was the X-ray. X-rays could see through clothes, skin, even metal. They were miraculous wonder rays that would cure anything.”

This was before scientists discovered what X-rays could cause. There’s a great deal more to this book than this review’s going to cover. Small’s mother and his mother’s own mother in particular begin to make ‘sense’ as David delves deeper. Indeed there are revelations ahead which in no way excuse their behaviour but go some way to explain it. Nor is there an ounce of self-pity about this tale of stifling, household oppression – of heavy silences punctuated by the smashing of crockery and the bashing of drums – and Small’s subsequent running off the rails and Alice-In-Wonderland nightmares. But imagine going into hospital, after those three and a half years waiting, for what your parents assure you is a harmless operation, then waking up to discover your young throat “slashed and laced back up like a bloody boot” with your thyroid gland and one of your vocal chords missing. You no longer have a voice. And neither of your parents will tell you why.

There’s plenty more head-shaking in store for you but also, as I’ve said, some glorious strokes of the brush, whether it’s David’s young frame or his mother’s friends’ chic hairstyles, dresses and shoes. And then there’s his mother, a remarkably vivid portrait of pent-up hostility: the look on her face when her son’s cyst is first pointed out to her is the very opposite of maternal concern or terror; it’s one of naked disgust.

Fokke & Sukke (£5-99) by John Reid, Bastiaan Gelenijnse & Jean-Marc van Tol ~

If you liked the utterly un-PC humour of MODERN TOSS or Dr Parsons, you need Fokke & Sukke! A duckling and a chick, respectively, they parade around with no trousers, passing morally ambiguous and utterly offensive comments with their junk hanging out. Kind of like a more intelligent, anthropomorphic Kevin and Perry, and like Harry Enfield and Kathy Burke’s horrid teenage ravers, Fokke & Sukke are a satirical window upon society. I’m assuming as the cartoon first appeared in Dutch student magazine Propria Cures, that the fowl reprobates are students themselves, which certainly explains how much they drink.

The artist Jean-Marc came in recently and in spite of creating such immensely rude cartoons he was an wonderful bloke with a sweet sense of humour; when I broached the subject of FOKKE & SUKKE being rude, he merely raised an eye-brow and said, “They aren’t rude. You should see some of the stuff in Amsterdam!” I would, dear, but I’m afraid I’ll go blind!

When he was in store, Jean-Marc was kind enough to sign the copies we have with unique Page 45-centric sketches! Strictly limited, mind. First come, first served and as long as your standing order (if you have one) is cleared.


The Ticking h/c reprint (£14-99, Top Shelf) by Renée French ~

“I bought The Ticking at Page 45 in Nottingham. It was the single most unsettling experience I have managed to obtain in my life for twelve pounds and ninety nine pence. It was beautiful and oddly sweet and yet it sits in the unlit corners of my head where it makes strange faces and weird chittering noises to itself. Sometimes it does nasty things with tweezers and surgical implements. Please buy it and read it, so perhaps it will crawl out of my head and into yours and then I will finally be able to sleep peacefully once again.”
 – Neil Gaiman

One day Renée will do a horror book to rival BLACK HOLE and people will finally realise just how horrendously talented she is. And it’s a shame that it will mean cramming her whimsical, pillowy pencils into such a specific genre, because the stories she puts out are wholly indefinable. You can’t just put them in a box and I like that. The closest comparison I can make is to David Lynch, only with heart.

“The Ticking is the story of Edison Steelhead, a boy who at birth takes his mother’s life and his father’s deformed face. Secreted away by his father to be raised in a remote island lighthouse, Edison relates to his surroundings in the only way he knows how — by capturing them in his sketchbook. Able to find beauty in even the most grotesque of things, Edison embraces his own unsettling appearance and sets out to confront the rest of the world. Waiting for him on its alien shores are the sights and experiences that will give shape to both his future and his past.”


Walking Dead Compendium vol 1 (£45-00, Image) by Robert Kirkman & Tony Moore, Charlie Adlard.

Books one to eight, or #1-48, in a single monster wodge.


Amulet vol 3: The Cloud Searchers (£8-50, Graphix) by Kazu Kibuishi.

Inspired by the films of Hayao Miyazaki and a fair few console games, this gorgeous, all-ages series full of breath-taking fantasy landscapes and weird, wonderful and often alarming creatures packs plenty of punch. I thought I was just going to skim the third book to keep up to speed, but it sucked me right back in and kept me riveted. It’s the finest instalment yet.

Following his son’s failure to kill Emily, the young human Stonekeeper, the Elf King has dismissed the rebellious Prince Trellis and brought in a professional assassin called Gabilan, clad in ebony armour and riding a ferocious bird of prey. His targets: Emily, her companions… and Prince Trellis himself. Meanwhile, our band of heroes set off in search of the lost city of Cielis, leaving behind the bipedal sanctuary, the ultimate in mobile homes. Some say Cielis was razed to the ground by the Elves, others that the Guardian Council and its five Great Stonekeepers managed to hide it among the clouds, there to be rebuilt in safety. That’s what Emily’s grandfather Silas believed, but he never managed to find it. Nor has the reluctant Captain of the airship they hire to fly into heart of a raging storm. As the ruthless Gabilan closes in, the ship comes under attack from Wyverns, monstrous feral dragons. They’re hungry, very hungry, and not everyone will make it through.

Why does the Elf King wear a mask? Why does Trellis have virtually no memory of his childhood? And what lurks in the storm itself?

More high-speed chases, ferocious battles and mechanised armour suits. Towns reminiscent of early Final Fantasy and floating outposts reminiscent of Roger Dean’s.

The arrival of Gabilan raises the stakes, and the addition of Emily and Navin’s mother, now rescued, shifts the balance in an unexpected way. Alarmed equally at her alien surroundings and her children’s familiarity with them, all she wants to do is take them home, but that’s not even an option. For a start, if the land is to survive this new rampage of the dark elves, they must find the Guardian Council; secondly, the Stone which endows Emily with such powerful abilities, and speaks to her in her dreams, won’t let her leave.


The Art Of Pho (£14-99, Jonathan Cape) by Julian Hanshaw ~

A strange alien called Little Blue finds himself alone in a strange land which, although it looks inhospitable, slowly begins to turn into a bustling town in Vietnam (which I know sounds unlikely but I was given no sense of movement). There he almost inexplicably falls into a job serving noodles out of a cart, and living with a cast of aggravating and empty back-packers. People who Little Blue seems utterly obsessed with; perhaps he relates.

I’ve had this on my reading pile for a while now, and having tried hard to read it several times, found it utterly banal. If Julian had just made an honest book of enthusiasm for the food or the culture in modern Vietnam then this would have been enjoyable but I get the feeling he lacked the confidence in himself as a writer and had to inject it with a “story.”
The honest travelogue is there, you can see it in the expressive array of media he uses on the page – napkins, doodles, stains and many different paper textures – but it’s patchy, unfocused and completely secondary to the apathetic plot. Julian’s difficulty in creating a fictional world shows, it feels forced and I don’t think he enjoyed himself in this aspect of the book, certainly not as much as he liked the art duties. And what is with Little Blue? As a protagonist he was completely un-relatable and as an avatar for the reader to immerse himself in this culture, he was a confused and far too busy-looking. You need an indistinct, blank design for a character like that so that the reader can project her/himself on to it. And that just disappointed me so much, as that is a basic comic storytelling tool even children instinctively grasp.

So in short, Julian Hanshaw can draw a mean bowl of soup, but he has a lot to learn about the art of storytelling.


I Am Legion h/c (£22-50, Humanoids) by Fabien Nury & John Cassady.

London, December 1942 and, in the extensive wine cellar of an expensive house, an important man called Wilkes sits tied to the chair. He’s on the inner circle of the war effort fighting the Nazis. A second man stands imperiously above him, drinking Cognac, then slits the belly of his own forearm, right down the length. Some time later the mansion is pulverised by an explosion from within, but the man who walks away looks uncommonly like Wilkes.

Romania, December 1942, and there’s a young girl overlooking the snow-crested mountains, recalling a battle between the Ottomans and her brother, during which her brother gathered all his prisoners – all 28,000 of them – and had them impaled on the ridge of one of those mountains. That took the wind out of the Sultan’s sails, and Ottomans fell back in retreat.

“And you were there?”
“Of course… I was there, beside the Sultan.”

There’s a war going on. Or are there two? Abroad there’s a resistance on one side, and a series of horrific experiments on the other. Back at home there’s an investigation into the body found in the burnt out mansion. It’s all connected, but the team sent to unravel the puzzle are only just beginning to scratch the sinister surface, and they have troubles within. Who knew that a safe combination could be so poignant?

Every time I review PLANETARY I keep meaning to include Laura in the credits because her coluring contributes so much to the beauty of the books, and does so equally here. Great script, well balanced, and the remarkable art of John Cassady.

The Amazing Screw-On Head And Other Curious Objects (£13-50, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola.

‘”It’s as you always say, sir – all really intelligent people should be cremated –”
“For the sake of national security!”‘

Fifty pages of all-new Mike Mignola accompany this bonkers gem of tongue-in-cheek absurdity which strode straight in to become my favourite Mignola work to date. Reading like an accelerated LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN, it’s a Victorian gothic science-fantasy action-adventure comedy in which President Lincoln calls on the eponymous hero to gird a spare set of loins and save the day from the potentially disastrous excavations of the lunatic Emperor Zombie. Searching in Egypt for the Bangang Agro-Eash, the left eye of Nog – a melon-sized jewel worshipped by the wizards of Mu – emperor Zombie instead unearths a mouldy old turnip. With a small, parallel universe inside.

Very, very funny, with all the shadowy tombs you’ve come to expect from the crypt-licious Mike Mignola.

My favourite of the new short stories – which may even rival the above – is The Prisoner Of Mars wherein a quartet of distinguished gentlemen puff on cigars in a dark corner of a pub and exchange accounts of their derring-do. Indeed it is remarkable that Doctor Snap is alive and well, having recently been tried and executed for the murder of his friend Professor Cyclops at his home in Blackmoor after being called there after a meteor shower. Technically he was guilty, medically he was dead, but his spirit made it to Mars where it’s confined to a robot body shaped like a frying pan and meets his old mate in the form a translucent jellyfish:

“Tell me, Snap, how is it that you’re here?”
“When I finally did make it to Blackmoor and found you spouting that Martian gibberish — Well, I got pretty excited about it and I’m afraid I cut your head off.”
“No harm, really, as I was no longer using it, but I guess they hanged you for it.”
“They did me like a pirate.”
“I’m sorry about that.”

Also includes The Magician And The Snake from by Katie Mignola (aged 7), a reworking of Abu Gung And The Beanstalk, story notes and sketches.


Transmetropolitan vol 8: Dirge new edition (£10-99, Vertigo/DC) by Warren Ellis & Darick Robertson, Rodney Ramos.


Campaigning journalist Spider Jerusalem has set his sights on grinning American President Callahan. Gradually he’s been connecting the dots and building an archive of evidence that links the President to the murder of Vita Severn. He’s getting close. Very close.


An outbreak of Blue Flu – a secretly organised strike on the part of the police under the guise of illness – has been ordered from on high, ensuring that most cops are off the street and surveillance there is minimal. A sniper in a Blur Suit has opened fire on civilians from a rooftop overlooking the Print District from which the city’s entire media operates – it’s been evacuated. And the worst weather imaginable is hammering down from above, building into something truly brutal. Something is about to happen in the city that no one will be watching, no one will be warned about, and there will be no emergency services to pick up the pieces. But if Spider honestly thinks he’s figured it out, he’s in for a rude awakening.

Also this volume, we finally learn the truth behind Jerusalem’s hallucinations and nosebleeds. So does he. Blackout:

“I don’t feel very well.
“In fact, I feel like a dog shat in my heart. And someone appears to have stolen the world. I always knew that would happen.
“That’ll teach them not to listen to me. I tried to tell them, but ohhh no. Of course, I was naked at the time. Which obviously distracted them. In the church.
“Oh, my god. They stole my cigarettes too.”


The World’s Greatest Superheroes s/c (£2-50, DC) by Paul Dini & Alex Ross.

Almost A4-sized reprint of all those huge, floppy Dini and Ross one-shot morality tales (BATMAN: WAR ON CRIME, SUPERMAN: PEACE ON EARTH, WONDER WOMAN: GOSSIP IN THE SCULLERY etc.) in one won’t-droop-over-the-sides-of-your-bookcase volume. Pretty good value for money it is too. Ross has a unique take on DC superheroes, it seems to me, in that his versions really do show their age. Batman’s coming up to 50, Wonder Woman’s approaching the same age and Superman’s face and physique are those of someone at least 65, if in remarkably buff condition. Why…? I don’t know but it does lend them a weight and a sense of authority – a seniority over their peers – that others’ interpretations seldom convey. This also contains JLA: SECRET ORIGINS, JLA: LIBERTY & JUSTICE and SHAZAM!: POWER OF HOPE, one heck of a lot of sketchwork plus two enormous landscape paintings in the form of a double-sided, four-page fold-out. I’ve dug out some of my original reviews from when the floppies first appeared.

SUPERMAN: PEACE ON EARTH. A first-class seasonal story, convincingly narrated by the being called Superman, who finds that one man’s capabilities and the best will in the world cannot overcome the politics of men. Gorgeously painted, quiet, thoughtful and dignified. Recommended for all ages. That was truncated for a Recommended Reading List because I know I also mentioned Ross’ African animals which would have fixated me as a young man.

BATMAN: WAR ON CRIME I found more problematic: Look, it’s very beautiful. It’s very, very beautiful. It’s also rather disappointing. What was I expecting? I don’t know; perhaps I hadn’t thought this through in advance. I think this is the first Alex Ross work which has taken superheroes away from an epic background and tried to pop them into contemporary grocery stores. Now, you tell me, how precisely is someone wearing latex and a cape going to ‘sneak’ silently between these pencil-thin aisles to ambush a thief (with what I believe is called a ‘batarang’) without knocking the Twinkies flying? Nor, parenthetically, have I ever seen a grocery store so fully stocked or beautifully arranged, before or after a masked crusader comes squeak-creaking past the chewing gum and prophylactics. Of course, this doesn’t matter in most superhero comics – design can take care of such silliness and create a dynamic spectacle – but Ross is a realist and the ‘real’ Batman here is patently too bulky for the very real aisle. Where Ross excels is in the majestic, the epic and indeed, conversely, in a boardroom filled with normal, underpants-on-the-inside, real-estate-dealing speculators. MARVELS worked so well because Kurt cleverly combined for Ross the street perspective of the photographer with the magnificent, other-worldly spectacle he was gazing at from below. So those scenes featuring Bruce are fine; Ross’s interior and exterior scenes where Gotham’s elite network are magnificent.

But, oh no, here we come to the story. It’s an excellent introduction to those who have never encountered Batman before: it’s an everything-you-need-to-know about Bruce, his loss, his tortured existence, the scars on his back (metaphorical or otherwise), his luxury lifestyle and his nightly excursions. For those of us who’ve read a single decent Batbook, it’s superfluous. In fact it’s a facile cliché: urban poverty, nasty gunmen, here comes an orphan; Bruce has a flashback, boy turns to crime (must involve drugs), Batman turns him round, then Bruce spends a few pennies and miraculously solves all the ghetto’s problems. Ta-da!

The scene in which we first stumble across this particular orphan is genuinely arresting. The layout of the double-page spread is perfect, the model he choose for the boy can evidently act, and Ross evokes the mutual shock and horror with great pathos. And, if you’ve forgotten after this unexpectedly unfavourable review which I really didn’t want to write, this book is beautiful. So enjoy the pictures. They’re very big.

SHAZAM!: THE POWER OF HOPE. A return to form for Dini and Ross, who seem much more capable in the bright light of day and on a grander scale than on the streets of Gotham or dealing with everyday problems. For those of you unfamiliar with DC’s acquisition, Billy Batson, now working at a radio station, is a young orphan able to swap himself when required with Captain Marvel; they share an innocent outlook on life, and Ross’s triumph here is the evocation of Billy’s features in the broad-set Captain whenever his naivety is exposed. If it’s all a little nicer than nice, well, that works a good deal better for the creators than when they tried to introduce a darker element. When their heroes are setting standards to aspire to (occasionally a little clumsily, but more often than not gently), they’re doing fine, especially when limitations are reached (which is why the Superman volume succeeded). Unfortunately there is one howler in this book which destroys both the subplot and, consequently, the finale. One of the lads in the hospital Batson visits was beaten up by his Father. So what does the Captain do? He threatens him. Physically. Not only is it entirely out of character, but you just don’t bully a bully. It may be one’s immediate, knee-jerk and quite natural desire, but, hey, add to the cycle, why don’t you? I never expected to say this, but even SPAWN handled this better, showing the nasty repercussions which aren’t even suggested as a possibility here. A tad irresponsible.

WONDERWOMAN: SPIRIT OF TRUTH. Fourth giant-sized annual from painter Alex Ross and, like SUPERMAN: PEACE ON EARTH, the premise is a good one, that there are limits to what the best intentions of a single person can achieve, howsoever good-hearted and suped-up they may be. Wonderwoman can help in disasters, take down criminals, but when she ventures into foreign affairs, hoping to stop the practice of using human shields in a war zone, her involvement creates fear amongst those she seeks to help. So she talks to Clark Kent, who has experienced such frustrations and who suggests that the view from street level is substantially different from the perspective of one who can fly; and she might perhaps try working with people rather than above them. So she does. She goes on protest marches – and averts an escalation by snapping a gun in two; she attends a peaceful demonstration against loggers operating in a rain forest which the country’s government has already been paid substantial amounts of money to preserve – and secretly sabotages their equipment with her super-strength. And she returns (in disguise) to the country where she met an impasse, joining the human shields as they’re about to be moved to another area where the bombs will be falling – and blows up the truck, freeing the women.

Now, if the idea of the book is to educate young readers about some of the world’s injustices, I think these are great vehicles. They’re beautiful, awe-inspiring, and written with accessible language. I’d certainly recommend the SUPERMAN volume to any parent buying it for a youngster. But more than most superhero tales this and the SHAZAM volume demonstrate Dave Sim’s contention that the entire genre is strictly Mummy’s Boy fodder. That the solutions offered above are, even in this context, no such thing – there would be nothing to stop the dictatorship rounding up and replacing the women the second kindly Diana leaves the stage – is just a flaw of the book. But each one of Diana’s little tricks also involves the use of a superpower, the private fantasy of the Mummy’s Boy who’d love to just kick those bullies’ asses if only he had cawwabungium claws. Which he doesn’t. And – maybe I just got out of the wrong side of the bed this morning – I think this is… distracting. Whenever important issues are brought ‘realistically’ into the superhero genre it is rare that they aren’t trivialised partly because, superheroes not actually existing, the solutions are impossible. We don’t have that magic wand. We’ve got to deal with things as they stand.

JLA: LIBERTY & JUSTICE. Time for Alex Ross’ annual outing of po-faced pugilism, this time featuring a completely new, New or “new” adventure for the Justice League of America. The Martian Manhunter looks splendid, but Alex has tripped one step too far in his obsessive search for realism, and managed to make The Flash look exactly like some stupid actor wearing a silly rubber costume. I’m thinking of those two minutes of some godforsaken Justice League straight-to-TV movie I endured whilst doing the ironing one Sunday, propped up against the chaise longue, having lost my remote control under the antimacassar.*

*I don’t really have an antimacassar. I don’t really do the ironing. I don’t even get up on Sundays.


Iron Man: Noir h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Scott Snyder & Manuel Garcia.

1939, and Tony Stark is Harrison Ford’s Indiana Jones, only with far more money and a great deal of press coverage. In fact he has his very own writer accompanying his increasingly reckless escapades, which are then published in Marvels: A Magazine Of Men’s Adventure. How much they’re exaggerated I’m not sure. Modok, Fin Fang Foom and the Bloodstone Gem are all cover features. As to Jarvis, Snyder’s gone the opposite route to Millar and instead of turning him into a petulant old queen, he’s buffed him up into a no-nonsense medic, mechanic, and gruff old soldier, an ex-prisoner of war with Stark’s father:

“On the table. Now.”
“Morning, Jarvis.”
“I meant it.. On the table. I’ve been waiting for over an hour. What do you think I am — your bloody butler?”

The table’s an operating one, by the way. Tony’s always had trouble with his heart, in every way possible.

Half the fun of these series is to discover for yourselves the ways in which the writer has reassigned various familiar protagonists, so I’ll give you a few hints, make many omissions, and leave it at that: they’re on their way to Atlantis, but Namor is no Submariner and Dorma ain’t no Lady except by name; Madame does get to wear a Masque but it’s made from something altogether different; Stark’s father did invent Arsenal, and there’s plenty of armour on offer – they’re like giant, mechanical scarecrows – and this just as much fun as Geoff Johns’ OLYMPUS. Also, I lied somewhere earlier, but it was misdirection on Snyder’s part too.

Garcia’s art is as robust as you’d like for a yarn of this nature which, unlike some modern Marvel Comics (including the first SPIDER-MAN and X-MEN NOIR book), would actually make a cracking action gift for even pre-teen readers. It’s not remotely Noir but Lord, if only the regular Marvel Universe were this uncomplicated.

Dark X-Men s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Paul Cornell & Leonard Kirk…

“You killed one of my brain cells.”
“I was curious.”
“Ah. I can understand that, then.”

Possibly, just possibly, my favourite story arc of the entire Dark Reign! Nice to see that after Marvel pulled Cornell’s excellently written but wholly underappreciated CAPTAIN BRITAIN, he’s kept the same comedic style of dark, humorous dialogue which made that book so entertaining. Marvel ought really to let him have a crack at writing Deadpool although I believe he’s now signed up exclusively to write for DC.

Anyway, I read this book with absolutely zero expectations, fully thinking it would be just another churned out, spurious side-bar piece of tosh, particularly after the dull X-Men / Avengers team-up UTOPIA which immediately precedes this. However I found myself chortling throughout, especially at the increasingly ludicrous character intro panels that continue right throughout the book rather than just when a character first appears, many of which are musically themed. And the plot itself is pretty whacky involving Nate ‘X-Man’ Grey taking over Norman Osborn’s mind to escape an initial confrontation with the Dark X-Men (themselves a hilariously dysfunctional team of misfits), prompting the team to telepathically go in after Nate in a bid to rescue Norman. Unfortunately for all of them, they’ve completely forgotten about a certain brightly coloured individual Norman’s already keeping precariously restrained inside his head…

Spider-Man: Fever (£10-99, Marvel) by Brendan McCarthy.

“Well? Is it a man or is it a spider? Shaman, let the Tarot of the Tarantulas decide.”
“I draw the Eight of Legs.”
“Very well. Longlegs, take him to the Insect gate.”

I wonder what else is in that tarot deck. The Seven of Sadistic Child? The Six of Actually An Ant?

Arachnophobes are going to want to steer well clear of this one. The look and feel of this is unmistakably Steve Ditko not just in its Dr. Strange elements, but in Spider-Man’s eyes as copied in the original animated series. And if you don’t know McCarthy from ROGAN GOSH etc., then you’re in for a trip! I think he uses the word ‘necrodelia’ somewhere.

Things are not right: omens abound like the Daily Bugle headline “FERAL CATS EAT CHURCH LADY WHO FED THEM”. In fact it’s the animal kingdom in particular which is out of sorts as The Vulture swoops from the sky and a powerful Webwaze energy-stream crackles from a booby trapped book delivered to Dr. Strange, Sorcerer Supreme.

“The Webwaze snakes up inside the buildings, into the nervous system of the city. Upwards it crawls, inside cramped drainpipes full of gurgling human rain. Up through the crockery-crammed sinks and toilets piled upon toilets that reach into the clouds… Down with the rain it falls, into the dark drains and sewers. Down past Driddil and far beyond Dormammu, the Webwaze has its source.”

And in the middle of that nightmare web, the Arachnix spider-demon cackles and moves towards its prey: the Soul Sushi that is Spider-Man, currently comatose in Dr. Strange’s bath.

That’s the kind of crazy you’re in for with lots of lime green, tangerine, purple and turquoise. Lurid? I should bloody well hope so! If the Astral Plane is more mundane then you might as well stop in Mansfield. The sound effects composed of good old-fashioned, hand-crafted lettering, swirl around the page as our Spider is sent on a quest to catch a fly, the winds whispering as he crunch, crunch, crunches over a killing field of dead insects. That’s the sort of language used too: full-bodied, dark-and-stormy night, but not without a sense of humour for Dr. Strange is renowned for his gobbledegook.

“Looks like an old spare-snare, a sigil-powered trap. The instruction embedded in the sigil can usually be undone by uttering complete nonsense. A simple Number Nine incantation should do the trick. ‘Take this twist, Brother El Dorado — we are standing still.'”

Reminds me a little of Grant Morrison’s DOOM PATROL. Jonathan was bemused by the Arachnix wearing a top hat, but I’m fairly sure I’ve been seeing that image since childhood as part of Afro-Caribbean folklore. Did the trickster Anansi wear a top hat, or was it some other children’s story? Do let me know, scholars.


Dark Avengers: Siege h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Mike Deodato, Chris Bachalo.

The Sentry’s wife has realised the truth: that she married a monster and should have killed him on her wedding night. She thinks she’s finally done it. She’s wrong.

“Lindy, you’re not taking the easy way out of this marriage. I want some more of these theories of yours. They’re hilarious.”
“Please, please let me go! Please!”
“You want out of this? You really want to get away from me? Is that what you want?”
“You’re only still here because he loves you. And he does. And you’ve done nothing but betray him! He told you his deepest, darkest secrets. You see me as the enemy. You’re the enemy! You’re the betrayer. You made a promise, Lindy. You’re a liar.”
“Please just let me go. Just kill me.”
“Only because you were polite enough to beg me.”

We always knew the Sentry had a split personality, but until recently Norman Osborn had kept him under control with some expert psychology. After all, it takes one to know one. But now The Sentry is about to fracture completely, and so is Osborn, having declared war on Asgard.

Most of this essential context for SIEGE takes place prior to that book (but read SIEGE first – it’s all about hindsight), whilst the final issue deals with its fall out and the repercussions for each and every one of them, some of which you will never predict. In the meantime you’ll see most of the other murderous malcontents go about their daily sex lives (all in the pursuit of power) and Bullseye disguised as Hawkeye makes a move that halted me completely.

And that’s it for the DARK AVENGERS. You’ll understand why by the end. It was a tense and sweaty experience with some beltingly good dialogue surrounded by richly coloured, dark and brooding art. What Ellis & Deodato began in THUNDERBOLTS was played out to perfection by Bendis. Next: Bendis on a new series of AVENGERS, and new series of NEW AVENGERS, the AVENGERS: PRIME mini-series, and Brubaker and Deodato on SECRET AVENGERS. Oh, there’s also AVENGERS: CHILDREN’S CRUSADE. Is Wanda back?

New Avengers: Siege h/c (£22-50, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Stuart Immonen, Daniel Acuna, Mike McKone, Bryan Hitch, Mike Mayhew, Marko Djurdjevic.

Massive conclusion to the current series, otherwise known as NEW AVENGERS vol 13, and Bendis’ entire storyline begun in AVENGERS: DISASSEMBLED. It will not disappoint.

Clint Barton is pissed. I don’t mean drunk, I mean furious. He’s seen Bullseye usurp his identity as Hawkeye in Norman Osborn’s DARK AVENGERS, he’s spent the whole of his post-resurrection life on the run from them, and now he’s seen the destruction wrought on San Francisco and its resident X-Men. So when none of his fellow New Avengers can countenance his determination to invade Avengers Tower and take Osborn out for good, he goes it alone. Which works better for Osborn that it does for Barton. He’s tortured by force and mind-raped into revealing his team’s secret location, but you know that game of cat and mouse they’ve been playing for some time now? Well, Normie’s in for a bit of a surprise.

Bendis’ self-discipline here is impressive. The main thrust of the NEW AVENGERS for half its lifetime has been their battle of mixed fortunes with The Hood, Madame Masque and their supervillain cronies. Horrendously outnumbered, it’s taken their all to stay even half a step ahead of the next assault whilst on the run from the law. That’s the guts Bendis sticks to here, well past the SIEGE itself. Because now there’s a difference, see. The Hood only rose to power after CIVIL WAR and SECRET INVASION and all that time the real Avengers have been one man down.

Steve Rogers is back.

Next: Bendis on a new series of AVENGERS, and new series of NEW AVENGERS, the AVENGERS: PRIME mini-series, and Brubaker and Deodato on SECRET AVENGERS. Oh, there’s also AVENGERS: CHILDREN’S CRUSADE. Is Wanda back too?

Mighty Avengers: Siege h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Dan Slott & Khoi Pham, Neil Edwards.

Little strict relevance to SIEGE itself on account of none of those participating in it here actually appear in Bendis’ version. Regardless, they’re participating in it without any leadership from their leader, Hank Pym, who flat-out refuses to answer the call to Assemble. Instead he and Jocasta become trapped in Pym-Space with yet another incarnation of their world’s worst cybernetic son. I did take a brief gander, and there were moments of genuine “uh-oh” and a right old tease when one was given hope for the dearly departed Janet van Dyne. But I’m afraid, like the rest of this sorry series post-Bendis, it really didn’t do it for me.

Invincible Iron Man vol 5: Stark Resilient book 1 h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Matt Fraction.

Post-SIEGE, Tony Stark is broke. He has no money, no company, no resources at all except his brain. He uses it.

Fraction uses his own too, and so far it’s been my favourite chapter of Matt Fraction’s run as Stark negotiates with those that do have money, skills and key resources to persuade them to join his fledgling Stark Resilient and build a better future with limitless, free and environmentally neutral world energy based on his Repulsor technology. Some he respects and others he threatens with the prospect of being obsolete when the technology rolls: get in now or lose out forever. Their first project? A car, of course! Also, former P.A. and battle axe Mrs. Arbogast is back from the early 1980s’ run, she’s far more savvy and her first name is Bambi!

Stark’s well aware that it’s not going to be straightforward. His once-purged memory may be back, but there are holes there: gaps between the time he last backed-up his brain (always back up!) and then needed to download it. There’s distrust and resentment about what he did as head of S.H.I.E.L.D. and half the time he can’t even remember what he did. Meanwhile the Hammer Girls, daughter and granddaughter of Justin Hammer (see IRON MAN: DEMON IN A BOTTLE) spy a vacuum in the arms market which Start is eschewing and they have battle suits of their own. But you wait until they pull their most ingenious move next volume, when they persuade dozens of unsuspecting gamers to pilot weaponised drones whilst convinced they’re all merely playing the latest handheld computer game on their mobiles. Finally, inevitably, it’s time for another meeting with Thor. Will it be any more amicable than the last?

Splendid art from Larroca who, over the past six or seven years, has gone from gauche to gorgeous, his faces full of subtle shifts in expression, his battle armour absolutely stunning. Extra design work in the back.

Spider-Man: The Gauntlet vol 5 – Lizard h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Zeb Wells with Fred Van Lente & Chris Bachalo, Jefte Palo, Xurxo Penalta.

Chris Bachalo’s pages on this decidedly tense and sweaty chapter of cold-blooded horror were glorious – truly glorious – and the writing was bravely different for a regular, mid-quality Marvel comic. For Dr. Curt Connors, who transforms under stress into the bi-pedal Lizard, is not the antagonist here but the victim. He’s the victim of atrociously bad management, zero ethics, and the reptilian hive-mind biding its time, waiting to consume him whole. The other victim is his son, and there is indeed a moment of “What the %&*£?!?!”

The problem is that you should never ask Bachalo to illustrate a comic on such a tight schedule – one that demands a new episode almost every week without room for manoeuvre. Because the fill-in art in the middle of several issues here at key moments of the storyline was so comparatively feeble that it jarred. It disappointed. It wouldn’t have been quite so bad had this whole story not been built on its pressure-cooker tension because the second Bachalo leaves the stage then it goes off the boil not to simmer but to bob limply on until he returns. Nice try, wasted opportunity. Still, Bachalo’s lizards are magnificent!


Daredevil: Ultimate Collection vol 2 (£25-99. Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Alex Maleev.

Reprints volumes 6, 7, 9 and 10 (volume 8 wasn’t by Bendis and had nothing to do with his storyline.)

Riveting stuff that has little to do with spandex. Its power lies in the courtroom, the precinct, the lawyers’ office and Matt’s bed. And readers of 100 BULLETS, PREACHER and what-not should all be throwing themselves across our counter to beat each other to buy these Bendis books as well as his ALIAS series and, if necessary, beat on each other to be served first. Because if the plot, the pacing and the dialogue weren’t enough, Maleev and colourist Matt Hollingsworth provide some gripping urban visuals with their rough shades of texture and light which will send you scouring their shadows for further detail or clues, just like Alex’s haggard and brittle Ben Urich peering wearily – and vulnerably – over his glasses. It also features the best rain ever in comics. I’ve seen some seriously beautiful rain, from Frank Miller’s in the first SIN CITY graphic novel to Will Eisner in almost everything he did. This, however, boasts the finest rain of all in a torrential downpour that almost streams off the pages and will have you towelling yourselves down, as a blind lawyer with a walking stick takes on several hundred ninja single-handedly, having had a complete mental breakdown and declared himself the new Kingpin of crime.

So, here’s where we are with our blind, beleaguered lawyer and nocturnal vigilante Matt Murdock: a criminal who crippled the Kingpin from within has used his knowledge that Murdock is Daredevil to bargain with the FBI. The FBI wanted to sit on the news, but one of their own sold it out to a paper. Now Matt’s denying the story for fear of being done for perjury, and suing the paper that’s outed him in a cornered act of bravado which – let’s remember – landed Oscar Wilde in prison. His alter ego’s activities on the rooftops are constantly being scrutinised by the press; one of his two bodyguards, Luke Cage, is so disgusted that Murdock is lying in his legal battle that’s he’s up and given notice; a blind girl whose life he’s saved knows for certain who he is, the Owl’s entourage have rigged the criminal’s lair in an attempt to catch the man out, and the publisher who’s striving to prove his paper was right on the nail all along has just been murdered in his swimming pool. Who’s the prime suspect? That’d be Murdock, naturally.

In addition this book sees the return of psycho-pyro-bitch Typhoid Mary, girlfriend-slaughtering Bullseye (two so far and counting), former girlfriend Natasha a.k.a. the Black Widow, plus the big man himself, Wilson “Kingpin” Fisk:

“Effective immediately I am retaking control of my territories. I am back in the business. The terms remain as before my absence… but the punishment for disobedience will be much more severe and handled more swiftly. I want to make it perfectly clear that your behaviour in my absence was disgusting. Payments for moneys past due will be expected shortly.”
“Mr. Fisk, you – you – you have to understand we were left without leadership, with – without answers, without -”
“Are you under the impression that we are having a conversation?””
“This drug — MGH — This cheap genetic piece of crap that the Owl was trying to peddle for quick cash, in lieu of actual vision and leadership, is off limits. It’s off the street. It’s stupid and it’s gone. Genetic mutation drugs are incredibly bad for business. Clearly I don’t have to explain how you’re making your customers into potential problems. Anyone caught dealing it will disappear. Details on the rest of my new arrangements will be made shortly. Now get out of my sight.”
“Okay, all right, I’ll be the one. Hey — sit. Everyone just chill. Fisk, you’re insane and one of us is going to kill you in your sleep before the weekend is over. You’re a lunatic for even trying this. You’re absolutely — you’re just insane. You cannot bully your way back in. It’s over for you. You had your shot and your wife sold you out. And, hey, sure, maybe you’d been a little more forthcoming with us in your salad days, we might be inclined to set you up with a little something for old time’s sake… But as it stands… Live like a $%#$££, die like a $%#$££. You had the entire city. You had Daredevil half in your pocket, and you screwed it up. The arrogance of you!! We’re supposed to cower in fear because you whacked half a dozen low-level jackos. They were garbage. Easy targets. I’m telling you: man-to-man. Out of courtesy because of all the money we made on that thing that time… Get out of the country tonight or by Sunday one or all of us are going to have you whacked. Okay?”
<Boop boop boop boop boop>
“Chinatown. Do it.”
“Do what?”
“I just ordered the rape and murder of your wife, Ming. Anyone else have a grandstand in them?”


Supreme Power vol 2: Powers & Principalities new edition (£14-99, Marvel) by J. Michael Straczynski & Gary Frank.

“Reporters can be bribed, intimidated, or if need be… removed. That, not exposure, should have been your first response to the problem.”

America’s best kept secret was the existence of a young man they named Mark. He arrived in an alien pod as a baby, and was found by a local couple who brought him home to live with them… for all of five seconds. Since then he’s been brought up by the US government in seclusion, by surrogate parents he believed were his own, to be the model American citizen and the ultimate weapon to their cause. Now their secret’s out, but they have a contingency plan. Mark is used as a distraction, rescuing people from fires on national television while a soldier fused to a whispering crystal from that self-same pod carries out covert operations all over the globe.

“If he’s here, on camera, he couldn’t be in the Arctic Sea at the same moment that a Russian nuclear sub we wanted to take a look at vanished under mysterious circumstances. Or when Bolivian anti-government squads are wiped out in the middle of the night without a trace except for the gratitude of the Bolivian government.”

Very good. But America’s best kept secret wasn’t the existence of Mark. America’s best kept secret was that they were manipulating Mark. And now he’s found out…

Meanwhile, every night, for two thousand years, a votive offering of fruit and bread has been laid in the ancient hidden chamber dedicated to a supposed princess. The tradition has been passed down for generation after generation. But something is stirring, as above so below, and the world of men will not know what’s hit it.

By the way, the military haven’t been content to indoctrinate Mark, attempt to kill him, or create their own super-soldier by using the crystal they found in that pod. Oh, no, they’ve used the DNA found there to see if they can’t splice it with humans’. Expendable humans – those serving life sentences for murder and rape. They wanted the grafts to take. They really wanted the grafts to take and they did indeed take.

They really didn’t want those grafts to take…

All this and more as the series really starts hitting its political stride, helped in no small part by Gary Frank, an artist on a par with Cassady and Hitch. His underwater female mutation is gorgeously designed, and very, very sad.


Husk h/c (£14-99, Soleil/Marvel) by Frederic L’Homme & Arnaud Boudoiron.

Iron Man, basically. Armoured exoskeletons achieving sentience or something. I’m afraid I only lasted six pages. Overwritten and, being shrunk from the original, European, album-sized book, difficult to read in any case.

Marvel Masterworks: Fantastic Four vol 4 (£18-99, Marvel) by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby.

“Fools! It is I, Madam Medusa, who has trapped you! Of what use are your clumsy guns and fists against my unconquerable hair!”

I should point that the Inhumans’ Medusa is no Gorgon – nor is their Gorgon for that matter – and that her hair is merely prehensile rather than a hissing nest of snakes. Nevertheless that’s good enough for the Frightful Four to enlist her aid in invading the Baxter Building, wisely waiting for the Avengers and X-Men to leave the engagement party. Yes, Sue and Reed have announced their plans to be married! Sue to the Submariner, and Reed to his work. No, no, to each other for now. There’s also an early origin of Victor Von Doom Esq., Daredevil, Dragonman, Diablo, Rama Tut (a.k.a. Kang The Conqueror a.k.a. Immortus), the Mole Man, some Skrulls and the Submariner himself as Reed uses his Subionic Analysis Structure-Scope (the man has SASS) to subionically analyse the structure of a deep-sea creature washed ashore long with Namor’s beloved Lady Dorma.

Eleven more issues from the swinging sixties then, complete with the occasional piece of whacky photography illustrating the ocean’s depths, the far reaches of space, or Mr. Fantastic’s banks of weird and wonderful scientific doo-dads built from things that are grey.


Dr. Horrible And Other Horrible Stories (£7-50, Dark Horse) by Zack Whedon & Eric Canete, Farel Dalrymple, Jim Rugg, Joelle Jones, Scott Hepburn…

Based on the Whedon brothers’ (Joss, Zack and Jed) multiple award winning 2008 hit, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, described as a musical tragicomedy miniseries in three acts. If memory serves, the brothers distributed Dr. Horrible via the internet to circumvent, and make a point about, what was going on during the 2008 American Guild writers’ strike. It tells the story of our eponymous hero Dr. Horrible, his nemesis and aspiring supervillain Captain Hammer, and Penny the girl at the laundromat, who just happens to be their mutual love interest helping to ensure the good Doctor and Captain are never going to be the best of friends. Oh yes, it also featured Neil Patrick Harris, probably better known to those of us of a certain age as Doogie Howser M.D., in the titular role. The show itself was actually rather funny, especially the songs which were all written by professional composer Jed Whedon.

Can I just confess when I first wrote this review I accidentally labelled Jed Whedon as a professional composter which conjures up some odd images, and is probably something that those who loathe Buffy et al have accused his brother Joss of being, albeit in rather less polite terms, but happily I did spot the error upon proofing. Unfortunately this comic, loosely based on the show, whilst being entertaining, doesn’t come anywhere close to capturing the truly bonkers feel of the show. One for Whedon completists, possibly.


Heart Of Darkness (£12-99, Self-Made Hero) by Joseph Conrad, adapted by David Zane Mairowitz & Catherine Anyango.

“The horror! The horror!”

Those were the final words of the enigmatic Mr. Kurtz, elusive golden boy of the ivory trading Company which hired Marlow some years ago to track down Kurtz, who’d managed to get himself well and truly lost up the Congo. Spiritually speaking.

Conrad’s Heart Of Darkness was one of the first novels of the 20th Century, although at fewer than one hundred pages long it’s actually more of a novella. Conrad himself was a Polish seafarer who, like Marlow, had spent six years out in the open seas of the East as First Mate then Captain of a ship before satisfying a childhood promise to explore what had in his youth been a relatively unmapped chunk of Africa. And, again like Marlow, Conrad was in for a brutal awakening. For by then the high ideals of exploration had turned into unrestrained exploitation, “a rapacious and pitiless folly”, pillaging the Congo of its ivory in the name of King Leopold II of Belgium and subjugating its so-called savage inhabitants with a barbarity which Conrad himself called “the vilest scramble for loot that ever disfigured the history of human conscience and geographical exploration” (‘Geography And Some Explorers’).

I was given the book in 1985 by a school friend called Ian Marshall, a substantial cultural influence for whom I’ve always been enormously grateful, and the triumph of its language, and the imperialist horrors and inner conflicts it evoked, blew me away. Here’s a passage in which Marlow, on the verge of discovering Mr. Kurtz, the consummate colonialist and the quintessential embodiment of white benefaction, surrounded by severed black heads on stakes. (Entrusted with writing a report for the International Society For The Suppression Of Savage Customs, Kurtz fills it with the all the usual condescending claptrap about being “a power for good practically unbounded” before more animatedly scrawling “Exterminate all the brutes!”) The steamboat that Marlow is captaining is crewed by cannibals whose rotting hippo meat has long since been jettisoned overboard. They’re hungry, they outnumber the Company members and they are cannibals…

“Yes: I looked at them as you would on any human being, with a curiosity of their impulses, motives, capacities, weaknesses, when brought to the test of an inexorable physical necessity. Restraint! What possible restraint? Was it superstition, disgust, patience, fear – or some kind of primitive honour? No fear can stand up to hunger, no patience can wear it out, disgust simply does not exist where hunger is: and as to superstition, beliefs, and what you might call principles, they are less than chaff in the breeze.”

It’s possibly the only example of self-restraint in the book – other than Marlow’s final, kind lie to Kurtz’s deluded widow – and it is displayed in the face of gnawing hunger rather than the rapacious lust for materialistic wealth, no matter the subsequent suffering.

So what of its treatment as a graphic novel? Well, yes, Anyango has captured both the pervading gloom and the overwhelming inertia that is so surprising for what is essentially a journey. She’s also captured a little of the vagueness, things glimpsed through mist or darkness, and I loved some of the tortured textures. As sequential art, however, it’s often awkward and, for such a short work, astonishingly repetitive, jerking us back out of the jungle to the boat of the Thames from which Marlow is recalling his experiences for yet another unnecessary, horizon-backed profile. So many pages have been squandered by both Anyango and Mairowitz which could have been used to embrace more of the language so importantly steeped in stupor. Insanely Mairowitz even chooses to incorporate Conrad’s private journal into work at the expense of yet more of the novella whose careful clauses have been disfigured by ellipses in order to join them to others.

The lettering, by the way, is atrocious, but the worst crime of all is the mystifying mistake of peppering pages with thought bubbles, totally incongruous and an insult to our intelligence, reducing each page they mar to a child’s pre-school drawing. Anyango didn’t deserve that, and neither does Conrad. It is essentially that old error, so prevalent amongst publishers post-WATCHMEN, of hiring a writer who is devoid of instinct for the skill of sequential art. As I said, the horror.

Heart Of Darkness

cheers to alec part six (of six)

Alec: The Years Have Pants (A Life-Sized Omnibus) (£25-99 s/c, £37-99 h/c, Top Shelf) by Eddie Campbell.

By far the single finest body of work in comics anywhere in the world to date.

“Who said ‘Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion’?
“Whoever it was, in my opinion we should take him out behind the trees and beat the shit out of him!”

So that’s me in the orchard with a bloody nose, then.

640 autobiographical pages of wit and wisdom from every discerning creator’s favourite comicbook creator. When Neil Gaiman signed here, the very first thing he did was ask to see the latest Eddie Campbell comic. That was his version of a rider! Far broader in scope than any other autobiographical comic, it’s not just about Eddie, it’s not just about Eddie’s family, it’s about the very experience of living.

Collecting all of Eddie’s previous ALEC books including HOW TO BE AN ARTIST, the material has been rearranged into a sweeping tapestry of love, lust, and drunken misdemeanours; ambitions, self-doubt and self-deprecation; parental responsibilities, parental irresponsibility and marital exasperation*; wine and travel, professional strife and a potted history of the UK comic scene. There’s actually very little that Eddie doesn’t find or make fascinating as he transforms his peculiar experiences into art for our entertainment, observing human behaviour in all its funny foibles and cogitating on its wider implications. ‘The Years Have Pants’ is a brand new concluding chapter whilst other previously unpublished, reworked episodes have been slotted in along with more fresh pieces in which he returns to his pen and ink style complete with the old zip-a-tone.
Glorious draughtsmanship right from the word go, and if I were to take one body of work with me to a desert island in any medium at all, it would be this. I would never outlast the pleasure it would give me.

* Five of the funniest new pages involve a day out with his son Callum, during which they discover a Star Trek communicator and manage to get themselves arrested. Sagely they conspire to keep that part of their trip from Mum – until Eddie slips up, of course, at which point it’s “Beam me up, Scottie!

Fragments and “The Years Have Pants”

The above is what sits on our website right now and whilst it’s a ringing endorsement, re-reading it now only confirms my belief at the time that it was inadequate; that this great big beautiful brick of a book deserved to savoured, month by month, strata by strata, in order to communicate the depth of the art and celebrate the breadth of a life plundered for your entertainment. The man’s not done yet; one hopes he’s barely begun. THE LOVELY HORRIBLE STUFF is on the horizon, and I thank the Lord that Eddie’s two-volume BACCHUS OMNIBUS (not autobiography, but the modern adventures of the Greek demi-god) was delayed long enough for me to give this work the focus it deserves.

‘Fragments’ begins with a condensed reprint of the first three chapters of ‘The History Of Humour’ which originally appeared in Eddie’s short-lived EGOMANIA comic, and started at the bottom – the human bottom, used to make arses out of politicians, kings and countries and mined for humour everywhere including The Miller’s Tale by Chaucer. Eddie traces traditions like April Fool’s Day back to the shift of the calendar’s New Year from April 1st to January 1st, the fools being those who refused to join in. Like accountants. Also, the Mardi Gras back to the Feast of Fools, and the Saturnalia to a merging of the Egyptians’ rebirth of the sun festivities and the Persian Sacaea whereby roles were reversed, kings were made out of commoners then summarily executed in their stead. The staggering ambition was so easily matched by the knowledge and research behind it that it’s painful to know that the project will never be revisited: a book sitting half-in, half-out of Lucien’s Library of things never written, unlike Eddie’s blogging project which unfortunately has its own index card. In retrospect it’s easy to the see the origins of FATE OF THE ARTIST in ‘I Have Lost My Sense Of Humour’, originally published in Dark Horse’s AUTOBIOGRAPHIX anthology, in which Campbell recoils from the exposure the From Hell film gave to him, his work, and therefore the life he’d put in it. It is, of course, very funny.

‘The Years Have Pants’ aren’t the first new pages in the ALEC OMNIBUS, there are some previously unpublished pieces scattered throughout, but they are all freshly composed and from 2008. They’re anecdotes recalled from the last three decades, so reprising some characters who’ve cropped up before, and character traits by now familiar. ‘The Shoebox Of Broken Dreams’ is the name assigned by Eddie’s son Callum to a very real shoebox full of treasured mementoes now bust:

“Here’s a clay Spider-Man that Cal made and painted for me when I was away for six weeks. I broke it while I was photographing it in case it ever got broken.”

One shouldn’t laugh lest one tread upon dreams, but one of Eddie’s most impressive instincts / skills is for comedy at the heart of even the most poignant moments.

One effect of the book in its entirety is to make any reader envious of the wondrously bizarre nature of the Campbell household, and these short stories are no exception: tampons flung against walls, a cordless phone charged only with the aid of a sock, and the doorknob that needs turning to open the door, then extracting to use on the other side should you not want to lock yourself out. Then there’s the story originally recounted on Eddie’s online Journal:

“My wife, Anne, has lately added a new word to the English lexicon.
“Caught on the phone during dinner, she yessed her way through a conversation while mentally rehearsing her exit line. ‘Thanks for ringing’ – ‘thanks for phoning’, and when she found a break it came out as ‘Okay – thanks for roning.’
“In our house this is now the standard was of answering a call that’s surplus to requirements. ‘Oy! Where do you think you’re going? You haven’t scooped the dogshit our of the yard.’ ‘Yes, Dad. Thanking for roning.’
“In the old days, I’d have made a one-page ‘Alec’ out of this, but today we squander our narratives on a blog.”

So there we go and isn’t it, as my mother would say.

It’s been quite the recollection: over fifty years and 640 pages of Alec MacGarry.

No one could have suspected so many years ago that autobiography would now form such a robust part of comics and take up so much room on our shelves. Our gratitude for such pioneering foresight, in hindsight, should be limitless. Unfortunately my cat just wants feeding.

Cheers, then, to Eddie Campbell: exceptional artist, effortless humorist, hopeless liability, and the finest raconteur in comics.


art books, prose etc.


Blood Waters (£7-99, Flambard) by Chaz Brenchley.

“Oil and water, blood and time: some things never mix. In time, blood will always rise. Soak a thing in blood enough, and doesn’t matter how deep you bury it in the earth or in the past. Give it time enough and up it comes, wet and rank and telling.”

Rare is the prose stocked by Page 45 that has nothing to do with comics. Nor is this an exception, for you may have seen the cover to this nerve-frazzling, wince-inducing crime anthology in the pages of Bryan Talbot’s ALICE IN SUNDERLAND. These are the stories which Chaz Brenchley either fed into or took out of the Sunderland Riverside Sculpture Trail which he co-created with sculptor Colin Wilbourn and on which the pair elucidate in a sequence of ALICE IN SUNDERLAND I found so compelling that I just had to walk the Trail myself.

There’s a trompe l’oeuil or two, a three-dimensional piece of sequential art in which a cormorant spreads its wings then takes flight off a jetty, a telescope that used to stare out to sea (Ah, but did it really? There are two ends to a telescope. “Sometimes we see more clearly when we turn our backs.”) although the trees in front of it have since grown tall enough to obscure the horizon, making a curious folly of it; but most impressively there’s a sandstone sculpture of a house in ruins, a crime scene which Brenchley analyses in forensic detail:

“There’s a coat. First thing you see, you walk in the door and there’s a coat. Someone left in a hurry perhaps; left the door open, didn’t take their coat. Never mind the weather, worry would keep them warm.”
“… There’s a letter half-burned among the coals in the grate, and another half-written on the table. There’s a vase of flowers spilt, and water dripping. Above all there’s a sense of things interrupted, things not finished. Like a life, perhaps, a life not finished but over none the less.”

All these objects are there on the Trail for you to decrypt yourself (give or take an act of mindless vandalism which is only apposite when you think about it – I don’t think they were the killers covering their tracks) because in that instance the story was written by Chaz for Colin to illustrate. In another, however, one of Brenchley’s victims finds herself stumbling upon the sculpture as a very real and physical object in situ.

Every story comes with its own fully realised narrator’s voice which filled me with dread, just waiting for the individual in question to reveal the extent of their twisted deviance and, by extention, the author’s. It’s substantial, by the way, and I’m glad the writer lives a very long way away from me. There are cold, calculating manipulators, often young and with a sociopathic callousness towards those who should be friends, ticking time bombs of possessiveness, the most creatively fought custody battle I’ve encountered, and the corruption of photography to pornography along with that male model’s innocence. And just when you think the plot can’t thicken further, Chaz throws in another layer of deviousness or pulls the rug from under you after pages of careful deflection which you’ll want to go back and reread.

There’s also a subtle shift in language between each tale so that where appropriate you subconsciously know you’re cast back in time. In fact, I’m put in mind of Alan Moore’s VOICE OF THE FIRE both in terms of the temporal shifts, the linguistic dexterity, and because each of these tales necessarily takes place in a single location: Sunderland. Nor was I exaggerating when I declared that Brenchley had outwritten Neil Gaiman in my recent review of the HELLBOUND HEARTS anthology; no mean feat, I think you’ll agree.

As a Rosetta Stone to the Riverside sculptures, BLOOD WATERS is a revelation and a half that will add enormously to your enjoyment of ALICE. As murder mysteries in their own right they are insanely inventive, blindingly horrific and mesmerisingly told. Regardless, I can assure you that Chaz Brenchley is one sick puppy.

“What goes around, comes around.”

You better believe it.

You can see the Sculpture Trail on our website gallery here: LINK


Understanding Comics (£14-99, I Can’t Tell From Home) by Scott McCloud.

Since Page 45 took its name from this book’s 45th page, it seemed a bit odd that it didn’t yet have a review on our website. But then (obviously) it came out before we had even opened!

It remains one of the finest essays on the comicbook medium and since it’s a graphic novel in its own right, it’s beautifully self-demonstrative; if Shakespeare’s critics had been half so entertaining I might have secured a better degree. It’s witty, it plays with your preconceptions, and it’s actually a pretty vital book for those exploring communication in any medium.

Referenced, for example, by Bryan Talbot in ALICE IN SUNDERLAND (the venerable Scott materialises right in front of a feverish Bryan), it sets the medium in its historical context, explores the wealth of material produced by William Hogarth to Los Bros Hernandez, and begins to dissect the mechanics of the craft, giving us a vocabulary with which to discuss it. Obviously Scott delves deeper in the more recent MAKING COMICS, and it’s not without critics, but without this book they might not have found the words with which to criticise it in the first place. Above all, it will make you think.

Five gazillion other endorsements comes from the likes of Art Spiegelman, Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, Will Eisner and Warren Ellis.


also shipped (some reviews may follow):

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Love And Rockets: New Stories #3 (£10-99, Fantagraphics) by The Hernandez Brothers
Harvey: How I Became Invisible h/c (£14-99, Groundwood) by Herve Bouchard & Janice Nadeau
Sherlock Holmes: The Sign Of The Four (£14-99, Self Made Hero) by Conan Doyle, Ian Edginton & Ian Culbard
Modern Warfare 2: Ghost (£13-50, Wildstorm) by David Lapham & Kevin West
Spleenal h/c (£18-99, Blank Slate) by Nigel Auchterlounie
Fingerprints h/c (£10-99, Top Shelf) by Will Dinski
Sparky O’Hare (£4-99, Blank Slate) by Mawil
The Marvelous Land Of Oz h/c (£22-50, Marvel) by L. Frank Baum, Eric Shanower & Skottie Young
Dawn vol 3: Three Tiers (£12-99, Image) by Michael Linsner
Spider-Man: The Gauntlet vol 2: Rhino & Mysterio s/c  (£14-99, Marvel) by Joe Kelly, Dan Slott, Fred Van Lente & Max Fiumara, Marcos Martin, Javier Pulido, Michael Lark
Wolverine: The Reckoning h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Daniel Way, Marjorie Liu & Scot Eaton, Will Conrad, Stephen Segovia, Mirco Piefederici
Deadpool: Merc With A Mouth: Head Trip h/c(£29-99, Marvel) by Victor Gischler & Bong Dazo with Kyle Baker, Rob Liefeld, Das Pastoras, Matteo Scalera
Halo Uprising s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Alex Maleev 
Hack/Slash Omnibus vol 2(£25-99, Image) by Tim Seeley & Emily Stone, Fernando Pinto, Rebekah Isaacs, Tim Seeley
Spawn Origins vol 7 (£10-99, Image) by Todd McFarlane & Greg Capullo, Tony Daniel
The Metabarons vol 3: Steelhead & Dona Vicenta (£10-99, Humanoids) by Alexandro Jodorowsky & Juan Gimenez
Mice Templar vol 2: Destiny Part 2 h/c (£22-50, Image) by Brian J.L. Glass, Michael Avon Oeming & Michael Avon Oeming, Victor Santos, Veronica Gandini
Captain America: Reborn s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Ed Brubaker & Bryan Hitch
Marvel Zombies Return s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Fred Van Lente, David Wellington, Jonathan Maberry, Seth Grahame-Smith & Nick Dragotta, Andrew Mutti, Jason Shawn Alexander, Richard Elson, Wellinton Alves
The Chronicles Of Kull vol 3 (£13-99, Dark Horse) by Don Glutt, Roy Thomas, Barry Windsor-Smith, Steve Englehart & Ernie Chan, Rick Hoberg, Yong Montano, Dino Castrillo, Rudy Nebres, Ricardo Villamonte, John Buscema, Sal Buscema, John Severin, Howard Chaykin
Comic Book Tattoo, Special Edition Slipcased Hardcover (£49-99, Image) by Tori Amos, Rantz A. Hoseley and featuring scripting and art from David Mack, Josh Hechinger, Matthew Humphreys, Jonathan Tsuei, Eric Canete, Jason Horn, Dean Trippe, Sara Ryan, Jonathan Case, Rantz A. Hoseley, James Stokoe, Tristan Crane, Atticus Wolrab, Kako, Nikki Cook, Drew Bell, Kevin Mellon, Jeff Carroll, Mike May, Jeremy Haun, Amber Stone, Leif Jones, Elizabeth Genco, Carla Speed Mcneil, Kelly Sue Deconnick, Andy Macdonald, Nick Filardi, Cat Mihos, Andre Szymanowicz, Gabe Bautista, C.B. Cebulksi, Ethan Young, Joey Weltjens, Lee Duhig, Omaha Perez, Irma Page, Mark Buckingham, Rantz A. Hoseley, Ming Doyle, Mike Maihack, John Ney Reiber, Ryan Kelly, Alice Hunt, Trudy Cooper, Jonathan Hickman, Matthew S. Armstrong, Neil Kleid, Christopher Mitten, Kristyn Ferretti, Stephanie Leong, Sonia Leong, Peov, Kelly Sue Deconnick, Laurenn Mccubbin, John Bivens, Hope Larson, Emma Vieceli, Faye Yong, Chris Arrant, Star St.Germain, Mike Dringenberg, Paul Maybury, Jim Bricker, Craig Taillefer, Dame Darcy, G. Willow Wilson, Steve Sampson, Neal Shaffer, Daniel Krall, Adisakdi Tantimedh, Ken Meyer Jr., Mark Sable, Salgood Sam, Tom Williams, James Owen, Seth Peck, Daniel Heard, Ivan Brandon, Callum Alexander Watt, Leah Moore, John Reppion, Pia Guerra, Mark Sweeney, Kristyn Ferretti, Jessica Staley, Shane White, Ted McKeever, Chris Chuckry, Jimmie Robinson, Lea Hernandez Derek Mcculloch, Colleen Doran, Jason Hanley
Peanuts, Complete: vol 14 1977-1978 (£21-99, Fantagraphics) by Charles Schultz
The Incredible Hercules: Assault On New Olympus s/c (£10-99, Marvel) by Greg Pak, Fred Van Lente & Rodney Buchemi
New Mutants vol 2: Necrosha s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Zeb Wells, Kieron Gillen & Diogenes Neves, Paul Davidson, Niko Henrichon, Kevin Sharpe, David Lopez, Ibraim Roberson
Superman: New Krypton vol 2 s/c (£13-50, DC) by Geoff Johns, Sterling Gates, James Robinson & Pete Woods, Renato Guedes, Jamal Igle
Farscape vol 1: The Beginning Of The End Of The Beginning s/c (£7-50, Boom!) by Rockne S. O’Bannon & Keith R.A. Decandido
Angel: Barbary Coast (£10-99, IDW) by David Tischman & Franco Urru
Marvels h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Kurt Busiek & Alex Ross
Red Robin: Collision (£14-99, DC) by Chris Yost & Marcus To
Batman: Cacophony s/c (£10-99, DC) by Kevin Smith & Walt Flanagan
Invincible vol 13: Growing Pains (£12-99, Image) by Robert Kirkman & Cory Walker
The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by L. Frank Baum, Eric Shanower & Skottie Young
A.B.C. Warriors: The Volgan War vol 3 (£14-99,  2000AD) by Pat Mills & Clint Langley

new manga

A Drunken Dream And Other Stories h/c (£18-99, Fantagraphics) by Moto Hagio.

Yet another beautifully designed book, its soft cream and tan cover enhanced with a gold-foil title and rose. Impossible to resist.

Inside too it’s noticeable floral but not at all florid, with a love of patterned jumpers, ties and waistcoats and a line which refines itself over the forty years of this woman’s career.

Nature plays an important role, whether in the imagination of young Bianca whose cousin saw her dancing in the forest which absorbed her, killed her, and compelled her cousin to paint portraits of her right into retirement, or the willow tree shifting in seasonal cycles from under which a mother watches her son grown. It’s all she can do, for she’s dead. Death pervades this book, balanced by the lives brought into the world, and if there’s another theme that runs throughout it is childhood, parenting and the relationships between siblings. Over and over again it’s played out.

In ‘Hashin: Half-God’ two sisters, conjoined twins, are greeted very differently. Yucy is dazzlingly pretty and the centre of attention, but she’s also weak and stupid, whereas Yudy is academically precocious yet withered away to a husk, eyes sunk into their sockets, her scalp thin through alopecia. Unable to generate her own, Yucy leeches the nutrients from Yudy’s body, yet it is Yudy who has to do everything for her: carry her downstairs, wash her in the bath and feed her. Inevitably there is resentment, but when they are separated out of necessity it’s a different matter altogether.

In Iguana Girl, a mother suffers from the ultimate in post-natal stress disorders, and perceives her first child Rika only as an ugly iguana, her second called Mami as a perfectly formed and beautiful little girl. Preferential treatment doesn’t begin to cover it: throughout their lives the mother is blunt in her rejection of Rika, destroying her self-confidence and inevitably impacting on Rika’s self-image. The fact that the tale is wrapped in a sort of fairy tale wherein an Iguana princess asks a sorceress to make her human does nothing to soften the horrendous behaviour of the mother, and Rika’s resilience and wishing to please only makes the whole more upsetting.

Finally – and this may be my favourite in the entire collection – there’s ‘The Child Who Comes Home’. Except that he doesn’t. It’s all in the mind of his mother who, three years after the death of her son, cannot let go, talks to him as if he’s still there and sets portions of food aside on a plate. His older brother isn’t compared unfavourably, although there’s always that risk – the impossibility of competing with a brother made golden in death – but he cannot altogether dismiss the nagging suspicion that his parents would have preferred him dead instead.

Death also haunts Tsugiko in ‘Angel Mimic’, driving her to attempt suicide, while in ‘Girl On Porch With Puppy’ there appear to be no maternal nor paternal instincts at all, just a determination for their child to conform. The punchline to that one may either horrify you and have you laughing out loud. Weirder still, however, is the central, full-colour story of the title, in which a hermaphrodite called Lem, who “manifests as male” on a research centre in space, dreams of visiting a fortune teller as a girl and is told she/he will meet her beloved over and over again, but will die each time at his feet before being able to impart the contents of his/her heart. That very man then appears on the space station to tell Lem that he’s witnessed the same events too, repeatedly, explaining it as a “trauma in spacetime”. And then some of them play themselves out.

You’ll be pleased to hear there’s a little more optimism, acceptance and closure to be gleaned from ‘Marie, Ten Years Later’ and ‘Autumn Journey’, though less ostensibly so in the former. Both involve regrets, or at least acknowledgements of mistakes. Taichi’s regret is that his art school friendship with Katsumi and Marie was broken when the pair got married and left him behind without even a fond farewell. Also that, ten years later, Katsumi is a famed exhibitor whilst Taichi is an anonymous textile designer and still in love with Marie. But when he receives a phone call out of the blue from Katsumi, he’s shown a note from Marie to himself, written but unsent, that will colour his memories completely.

So yes, I suppose memories too figure prominently in what is a collection of overwhelmingly thoughtful work best read quietly in private without the distractions of commuting or throngs of passers-by. I haven’t read the interview in the back because I didn’t want my own perceptions filtered through it. But Hagio’s certainly not constrained by any thought to genre; each time she simply finds whatever form most suited to her needs, and if this is representative of a forty-year career, let’s hope sales merit publication of what must be an enormous wealth of material yet to be seen over here.


Ax vol 1 (£22-50, Top Shelf) by Osamo Kanno, Yoshihiro Tatsumi, Imiri Sakabashira, Takao Kawasaki, Ayuko Akiyama, Shigehiro Okada, Katsuo Kawai, Nishioka Brosis, Takato Yamamoto, Toranosuke Shimada, Yuka Goto, Mimiyo Tomozawa, Takashi Nemoto, Yusaku Hanakuma, Namie Fujieda, Mitsuhiko Yoshida, Kotobuki Shiriagari, Shinbo Minami, Shinya Komatsu, Einosuke, Yuichi Kiriyama, Saito Yunosuke, Akino Kondo, Tomohiro Koizumi, Shin’ichi Abe, Seiko Erisawa, Shigeyuki Fukumitsu, Kataoka Toyo, Hideyasu Moto, Keizo Miyanishi, Hiroji Tani, Otoya Mitsuhashi, Kazuichi Hanawa…

Doesn’t give much away that title really does it? The subtitle however, THE CUTTING EDGE OF MANGA, does get straight to the sharpened edge of the proverbial object, thus making it no surprise to me that customer Ian Scott, Nottingham Library stalwart and with a taste for the finest reading material, had put himself down for a copy way in advance of its release. That is usually recommendation enough for me to have a closer look, and if that weren’t enough here’s Paul Gravett, who as the author of the excellent MANGA: 60 YEARS OF JAPANESE COMICS! knows a thing or two about this topic too. Clearly Top Shelf agree as they asked him to provide a forward for this anthology. 

“AX is the premier Japanese magazine for alternative comics, heir to the legendary Garo. Published bi-monthly since 1998, the pages of AX contain the most innovative, experimental, and personal works in contemporary manga – the flourishing underground of the world’s largest comics industry.”

And he’s right, you know, I haven’t been this entranced by a manga anthology for a very long time, since I picked up something whose name eludes me* on Mark’s recommendation, which featured an outrageously funny strip whereby some very disturbed and oddly drawn youths were patrolling the beach randomly sampling the private parts innocently sunbathing ladies under the auspices of protecting public health, of course. Unsurprisingly it ends up with them being arrested. I mention this purely because I’m pretty sure one of the contributors to this work may well have created that particular strip from the look of the artwork, although I can’t be sure. Anyway, there’s a lot of dark humour in many of these works, along with some very disturbing stories.

So if you think you’re ready for something really different (and you still haven’t picked up THE BOX MAN by Imiri Sakabashira, who definitely does have a short in this work) this really is for you. Forget genre, art style etc. this is all about the content. Yes, it is experimental let’s make no mistake, but in a ‘mad scientist locked in his lab cackling maniacally at the outside world who have absolutely no idea what type of mayhem he’s about to unleash’ type way. But that’s a good thing right?

*Ian Scott actually popped in after I’d written this review to pick his copy of AX up so I mentioned the above, and he immediately told me that the anthology containing the story I was referring to was called SAKE JOCK, which indeed it was. He knows his stuff!


The Legend Of Zelda vol 10: Phantom Of The Hourglass (£5-99, Viz) by Akira Himekawa.

THE LEGEND OF ZELDA is based on the series of computer games starring gutsy young Link wandering around fantastical landscapes like a young, blonde Robin Hood, solving riddles, acquiring items, battling brutes and rescuing the put-upon of the day.

PHANTOM OF THE HOURGLASS is the one I’m most familiar with since my ex-house monkey Ossian Hawkes spent well over a month of his life (and mine) twiddling his thumbs and bashing buttons in front of the lounge TV, propelling our pint-sized protagonist across the ocean waves from island to island – sword, shield and boomerang in hand – avoiding water spouts, combining items and crawling through tunnels in search of The Sand Of Time in order to fill his hourglass and ultimately free his former Captain and love interest Tetra from the elusive, fog-shrouded Ghost Ship. [Note: O has since told me that was Wind Waker instead! Still, while ruin a completely erroneous review, eh?] But Ossian soon discovered that his trusty treasure map had distinct limitations and actually began mapping the massive world for himself in an exercise book which was almost enough to make me play the game afterwards. (I expended 50-odd pages each sketching elements of Riven and Myst to help me navigate, decipher and virtually will my way through those games). Still tempted.

I’ve often wondered why series like these sell so well given that they lack the interactivity of the originals. Maybe it’s the recognition factor, a comicbook comfort blanket, reliving your greatest hits on paper. Or perhaps they’re read as a walkthrough for those playing the games, or a catch-up for those only embarking on the very latest episodes. They certainly won’t take you a month, and will save hours of occasionally fruitless meandering, double-backing and reloads.

Err, LINK…?

also shipped:

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Gestalt vol 8 (£7-50, Viz) by Yun Kouga
Megaman ZX vol 2 (£9-99, Udon) by Capcom
Ghost Talker’s Daydream vol 4 (£8-50, Dark Horse) by Okuse Saki & Meguro Sankichi
Apollo’s Song Part 1 (£8-50, Vertical) by Osamu Tezuka
Apollo’s Song Part 2 (£8-50, Vertical) by Osamu Tezuka
Megaman Megamix vol 2 (£9-99, Udon) by Capcom
Negima!? Neo vol 6 (£8-50, Del Rey) by Ken Akamatsu & Takuya Fujima
Library Wars, Love & War vol 2 (£7-50, Viz) by Kiiro Yumi
Twin Spica vol 3 (£8-50, Vertical) by Kou Yaginuma
Air Gear vols 15/16/17 (£16-50, Del Rey) by Oh!Great
Bleach vol 32 (£7-50, Viz) by Tite Kubo
Tegami Bachi – Letter Bee vol 3 (£7-50, Viz) by Hiroyuki Asada
Cactus’s Secret vol 3 (£7-50, Viz) by Nana Haruta
Shaman King vol 30 (£7-50, Viz) by Hiroyuki Takei
Gantz vol 12 (£9.99, Dark Horse) by Hiroya Oku
Chi’s Sweet Home vol 2 (£10-50, Vertical) by Konami Kanata
NGE: Campus Apocalypse vol 1 (£8-50, Dark Horse) by Mingming
Return To Labyrinth vol 1 (£7-99, Tokyopop) by Jake T. Forbes & Chris Lie
Return To Labyrinth vol 3 (£9-99, Tokyopop) by Jake T. Forbes & Chris Lie
House Of Five Leaves vol 1 (£9-99, Viz) by Natsume Ono
Koko Be Good (£13-99, First Second) by Jen Wang
Dogs – Bullets & Carnage vol 4(£9-99, Viz) by Shirow Miwa
Detroit Metal City vol 6 (£9-99, Viz) by Kiminori Wakasugi
Peepochoo vol 2 (£9-99, Vertical Inc.) by Felipe Smith
Empowered vol 6 (£11-99, Dark Horse) by Adam Warren
Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service vol 11 (£8-99, Dark Horse) by Eiji Otsuka & Housi Yamazaki
Berserk vol 34 (£10-99, Dark Horse) by Kentaro Miura
Hayate Combat Butler vol 16(£7-50, Viz) by Kenjiro Hata
Arata the Legend vol 3(£7-50, Viz) by Yuu Watase
Your Love Sickness(£9-99, June) by Hayate Kuku
Rin-Ne vol 4(£7-50, Viz) by Rumiko Takahashi
Cactus’s Secret vol 2 (£7-50, Viz) by Nana Haruta
World Of Warcraft: Shaman (£9-99, Tokyopop) by Paul Benjamin & Rocio Zucchi
Neko Ramen vol 2: Curry Is Also Delicious (£7-99, Tokyopop) by Kenji Sonishi
Bokurano Ours vol 2 (£9-99, Viz) by Mohiro Kitoh
Manga Shakespeare: King Lear (£7-99, Self Made Hero) by William Shakespeare, Richard Appignanesi & Ilya
Manga Shakespeare: Twelfth Night (£7-99, Self Made Hero) by William Shakespeare, Richard Appignanesi & Nana Li
Manga Shakespeare: Henry VIII (£7-99, Self Made Hero) by William Shakespeare, Richard Appignanesi & Patrick Warren
Manga Shakespeare: Hamlet (£7-99, Self Made Hero) by William Shakespeare, Richard Appignanesi & Emma Vieceli
Manga Shakespeare: The Merchant Of Venice (£7-99, Self Made Hero) by William Shakespeare, Richard Appignanesi & Faye Yong
Manga Shakespeare: Much Ado About Nothing (£7-99, Self Made Hero) by William Shakespeare, Richard Appignanesi & Emma Vieceli

new comics

Ronin Dogs #1 (£2-99) by Mark Pearce ~

I found out about Mark’s comic in the same way I find most impossibly cool comics, by looking at Brandon Graham’s blog. Mark caught my eye amongst hoards of DIRTY PAIR fan art, ‘80s bargain bin finds and work by Brandon’s contemporaries in America, not only due to his Vaughn Bode by way of Jaime Hewlett art style, but because the man is Bristolian, therefore RONIN DOGS doesn’t incur the brutal cost of importing American mini-comics! Hurrah! Still I would be hard pressed to refuse stocking this no matter where in the world Mark resided, as RONIN DOGS #1 has that energetic, irreverent attitude of Hewlett’s early strips. It’s an attitude as particular to British comics as an accent, a dialect. It’s taken for granted, I think, now that so many writers and cartoonists from this side of the pond have found notoriety in America and that the two-fingers-up style is so widespread, but when I read something home-grown like this I feel like I’m ten again sneaking a read of my brother’s 2000AD and DEADLINE mags.

Anyway, enough reminiscing. RONIN DOGS is an intense whirlwind introduction to Derek, who you’ll notice is a skellibob rocking an awesome bit of ‘tache, and Jen, a feisty gin loving fight-freak who Mark promised he would try and put in a onesie in a future instalment. The whole issue is basically a beautiful set up for a massive fight. After some ducking and diving from Robots, Pirates, Bounty Hunter scum, etc, the pair relax on a secluded peninsula, but let’s face it that’s not going to last is it? And not to give anything away but it has a riotous reveal which perfectly demonstrates Mark’s ability in this medium and that the guy can tell a joke visually. 


Thor: First Thunder #1 of 5 (£2-99, Marvel) by Bryan J.L. Glass & Tan Eng Huat.

To this comic’s credit, the first issue of THOR – or rather the eighty-third issue of JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY in which Marvel’s version of Thor first appeared – wasn’t the most scintillating of secret origins, and that’s the full extent of the first issue here: a tweaking of the alien invasion that sees Doctor Donald Blake, on holiday in Norway, scuttling into a cave to avoid some giant rock-beasts. There, having lost his walking stick, he finds a gnarled branch of wood to serve the same purpose. Striking it in frustrated anger, it transforms him into the Mighty Thor, Norse God of Thunder, in body at least. It’s a while before he starts thee, thou, thying. In this new version he’s at it immediately, beseeching his all-father Odin not forswear him stuff out of disapproval. In fact the entire emphasis of the rewrite is on suffering the vocalised disapproval of a contemptuous, dismissive father: Blake’s.

There’s also an indigenous couple to save, which Thor refuses to do even when the woman is dangling from a root at the top of a precipice, just out of reach. Somehow the good doctor does, even though, you know, she’s just out of reach. And I’m afraid that’s the way it goes throughout. It’s barely more sophisticated than the original, and the art is grotesque, uglier than Whilce Portacio’s worst excesses (Whilce’s art can be phenomenally striking or hideously overwrought). Whether it will go on to explore how a Norse God is greeted by the good Christians of the USA in a more plausible way than the original run remains to be seen, but on the basis of the first issue, I suspect not.

Thor #615 (£2-99, Marvel) by Matt Fraction & Pasqual Ferry.

Dr. Eric Solvana is explaining his scientific theories of the Nine Worlds’ co-existence to Asgard’s finest scientific mind. If Asgard currently exists within Midgard – here on Earth – what now resides where Asgard once stood? Nothing, he postulates, a vacuum, a void. And the thing about vacuums and nature is…

Meanwhile, as Thor offers some tough love to King Balder The Brave, faltering with guilt over Asgard’s destruction under his rule, something is indeed cleaving its way through the Nine Worlds: a murderous army the likes of which has never been seen. Heimdall, the Asgardians’ look-out traditionally on watch at the end of the Rainbow Bridge, senses something too, and it’s brought him to his knees. So will Dr. Eric Solvana’s dire warning reach the mighty Thor in time, courtesy of this Asgardian scientist of the self-professed razor-sharp mind… or will the voluminous Volstagg need it explaining to him again, preferably using pies?

A smart start to Matt Fraction’s run with some clean art from Ferry – a contrast of light, bright humour and ominous speculation only confirmed by the bloodiest of horror.

Invaders Now! #1 of 5 (£2-99, Marvel) by Christos Gage, Alex Ross & Caio Reis.

I know it’s by Christos Gage, Alex Ross & Caio Reis because they refer to them as the writers and artist. Respectfully I think ‘artist’ is pushing it, and whilst whilst words were undeniably written, they weren’t very well chosen nor placed in anything close to an attractive order.

Thanks to some recent mini-series, the World War II Invaders are almost all alive and well again, although in Toro and the original Human Torch’s cases, they’re a little bewildered by modern methods of living. Then there’s catastrophe in a Dutch university hospital, Steve Rogers recognises the assailant’s symptoms and decides to call in the Avengers only for the original WWII Vision to materialise and say him nay:

“No, it must be the original Invaders!”
“Because that is the way it must be, or there will be grave repercussions for the… balance of… something.”
“…Or other.”
“Look, I for one don’t stand a chance of being back on the printed page if you call in the Avengers. There are already seven Avengers titles and you’ve got two Captain America series of your own. This original Invaders shtick is all I got going, and no one even remembers me as it is.”
“<sigh> Okay. You do you realise how atrociously you’re drawn, right? That colour scheme is horrible.”
“Invaders Invade!”
“Jesus suffering %&*$.” 

new merchandise

Up on our shopping side for sure! Search, search, search!

Scott Pilgrim T-Shirt – Double Sided Guitar – M (£14-99)
Scott Pilgrim T-Shirt – Double Sided Guitar – L (£14-99)
Scott Pilgrim T-Shirt – Double Sided Guitar – XL (£14-99)
Scott Pilgrim T-Shirt – Do You Wanna Make Out? – Skinny Fit – S (£14-99)
Scott Pilgrim T-Shirt – Do You Wanna Make Out? – Skinny Fit – M (£14-99)
Scott Pilgrim T-Shirt – Do You Wanna Make Out? – Skinny Fit – L (£14-99)
Scott Pilgrim T-Shirt – Do You Wanna Make Out? – M (£14-99)
Scott Pilgrim T-Shirt – Do You Wanna Make Out? – L (£14-99)
Scott Pilgrim T-Shirt – Scott Pilgrim vs. The World – Skinny Fit – S (£14-99)
Scott Pilgrim T-Shirt – Scott Pilgrim vs. The World – Skinny Fit – M (£14-99)
Scott Pilgrim T-Shirt – Scott Pilgrim vs. The World – Skinny Fit – L (£14-99)
Scott Pilgrim T-Shirt – Character Map – M (£14-99)
Scott Pilgrim T-Shirt – Character Map – L (£14-99)
Scott Pilgrim T-Shirt – Character Map – XL (£14-99)

For who wrote what, or to see cover and often interior art, please follow the relevant links under each book review to our shopping area.

– Stephen